“We were not fighting anyone, we were sitting there to demand our right to earn a decent living wage. The police were wrong.”
That is the assessment of a former rock drill operator at Lonmin mine. Justin Kolobe, who did not want to use his real name, was present on August 16 2012 when members of the South African Police Service opened fire on striking mineworkers in Marikana, killing 34 of them.
He was on the frontline of the labour dispute. He wanted to earn a minimum wage of R12 500 a month.
After the shooting he was left permanently paralysed and without a job. Like the families of the mineworkers who were shot dead by police, and 70 others who suffered injuries, five years later Kolobe is still waiting for justice and reparations. He lays the blame for the lack of progress squarely on the government.
He believes that if the authorities were serious about ensuring accountability for the killings, senior officials and police officers suspected of criminal responsibility would have been tried by now in a competent court of law.
“The government must decide what happens next. We remain in the dark about everything,” he told Amnesty International at his corrugated iron shack in Nkaneng informal settlement, where he lives with his family.
Kolobe is not optimistic about seeing justice in the near future and his cynicism is shared by others who were affected by the events of August 16.
A woman who lost her husband during the shooting told her long wait for justice and closure. “It’s like having a wound and someone keeps on touching it and making it sore again.”
Delays in ensuring justice and initiating reparation processes for those affected by the Marikana shootings have left many survivors and family members frustrated and angry. Many have lost a breadwinner, beloved husband, brother or son. They are demanding accountability — something which they should be fully entitled to as victims of human rights violations.
But the authorities have so far let them down.
The government was obliged to investigate the facts. It established the Marikana Commission of Inquiry to look into the circumstances of the killings and make a report and recommendations arising from its findings.
The commission recommended a full investigation with a view to ascertaining criminal liability of members of the police service who were involved in the events at Marikana.
But no one has yet been held to account.
To avoid such events being repeated, it is essential to ensure that those responsible for the killings at Marikana face justice through a fair legal process and that the victims and their families receive reparations, including adequate compensation.
Failure to investigate and prosecute such crimes will only serve to sustain impunity.
Uyanda Mabece is an Amnesty International Southern Africa campaigner