Amcu boss: Tribal warfare a media fantasy

On Wednesday afternoon, as the shock of the murder of mineworker Tholakele Dlunga hung over Marikana, a sombre crowd of about 2 000 Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) supporters gathered at the Wonderkop Stadium.

They were there to hear union leader Joseph Mathunjwa speak about the recent killings and reports of infighting, allegedly fuelled by tribalism, jostling for positions and the purging of dissenting voices within the union.

Dlunga, known as Bhele in mineworker circles, was killed on Tuesday night. He was one of 17 men due to go on trial for the murder of police officers, security guards and mineworkers during the violent strike by Lonmin workers that culminated in the Marikana massacre five years ago.

The charges include seven counts of murder, five of attempted murder, robbery, malicious damage to property, and unlawful possession of firearms and ammunition.

On Wednesday Dali Mpofu SC, who has rejected the charges laid against Dlunga and his co-accused, said he last spoke to him in court in Mogwase last Thursday. He was shattered by the news of his death, he told the crowd, many of them clad in green Amcu T-shirts.

Workers approached to speak on the recent killings declined to comment, saying they were not allowed to speak to journalists.

Mpofu blamed the recent killings on “divide and rule” tactics perpetrated by a third force, which he said used tribalism to divide workers. This was in response to allegations that the recent killings were sparked by a tribal rivalry between Mpondo and Bomvana people from the Eastern Cape, from which many of the mineworkers in the Rustenburg platinum belt originate.

He said the allegations could be traced to “some unions” that were trying to make their way back into the platinum belt. Amcu unseated the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) as the majority union in the area after the 2012 strike.

The Marikana commission, which probed the deaths of 44 people during a mining strike in August 2012, blamed part of the violence on the toxic relationship between the two unions.

Mathunjwa, accompanied by the union’s top three office bearers, observed a moment of silence in honour of Dlunga and other victims of the recent violence, before delivering an electrifying address in which he took a swipe at the media for “spreading lies”.

“They say: ‘Hey! Mathunjwa can’t be challenged.’ [They say] people are afraid to speak out. [They say:] ‘Hey! If you challenge Mathunjwa, he will deal with you.’ Deal with you how? They are liars. How can I deal with you when this union belongs to all of us?”

He went on to say: “I’m very democratic and I know the truth.”

Although Mathunjwa dismissed the reported tribal warfare as something that was made up by the media, he nevertheless spoke out against it.

“There at the koppie, you didn’t say to Mambush [Mgcineni Noki]: ‘You are Bomvana; don’t go represent us.’ You were not represented by tribe then. You were united by oppression of many years where your union, the NUM, which was in the majority, was doing nothing in your lives,” he said.

Mathunjwa said that in the aftermath of the Marikana massacre the union had offered support to the victims’ families regardless of their tribal background, and called on workers to unite regardless of the tribe, region or country they came from.

One of Dlunga’s co-accused, Majeke Nonkonyana, died before the matter was set down for trial.

The murder charges relate to the killing of police warrant officers Tsietsi Monene and Sello Lepaaku (during a skirmish in which police allegedly shot dead three workers), and security guards Hassan Fundi and Frans Mabelane, days before the Marikana massacre.

The accused also face charges of killing NUM member Isaiah Twala, and Lonmin workers Julius Langa and Thapelo Eric Mabebe.

They were killed days before police shot dead 34 of the more than 3 000 workers who had gone on strike to demand better working conditions and a minimum monthly salary of R12 500. The monthlong unprotected strike led to the death of 44 people in total.

Dlunga was among the workers who played a leading role in organising workers during and after the strike. He was an Amcu member.

In October 2012, he was arrested on suspicion of being in possession of an illegal firearm. Police claimed the firearm, a 9mm pistol, was one of two stolen during the murder of Monene and Lepaaku.

Dlunga allegedly took police to his home in the Eastern Cape, where the 9mm pistol was recovered. He later appeared in the Ga-Rankuwa magistrate’s court but the charge was subsequently incorporated into the case involving the 17 accused. The case against the men is going to trial in the Mogwase magistrate’s court.

He was also among six men who were allegedly tortured by police following their arrest while travelling from the Marikana commission hearings in Rustenburg in October 2012. — Mukurukuru Media

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Lucas Ledwaba
Lucas Ledwaba
Journalist and author of Broke & Broken - The Shameful Legacy of Gold Mining in South Africa.

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