President Cyril Ramaphosa’s pledge that the government must finalise reparations for the families of striking miners killed by police at Marikana in 2012 “in the coming months” will require taking a big stick to the state attorney’s office if it is to see fruition.
The protracted negotiations are no closer to finalisation, leaving families financially and emotionally frustrated, according to Nomzamo Zondo, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute’s (Seri) director of litigation.
Seri represents 36 of the 37 striking miners killed by police during an unprotected strike at Lonmin’s platinum mining operation in Marikana. In total, 44 people were killed in a week, including 34 miners who were shot dead in the police massacre on August 16 that year.
Zondo said the legal team was disappointed by the impasse between her clients and the government, which she attributed to the “approach of the state attorney’s office”.
“The state attorney’s position has always been that government is providing charity for the families of the miners killed. This approach fails to recognise the suffering the families have endured and it fails to recognise that government has wronged the families and that it needs to rectify this wrong,” she said.
Her portrayal of the state of the negotiations belies Ramaphosa’s claim on Tuesday, when he responded to opposition parties’ replies to his State of the Nation address, that the government “is making progress in continuous engagement with the legal representatives of the victims, especially on the matter of reparations to families”.
The government first sent a letter indicating its willingness to discuss compensation with the families in December 2014 but negotiations only started in January 2016.
Since then, the state attorney’s office has reneged on various promises made to the families, offered derisory amounts for the loss of income suffered, as little as R100 000 in the case of one family, and has refused to pay damages for police breaching the constitutional rights of the dead mineworkers and their families.
Government offered R50 000 a family for general damages such as emotional shock and psychological injury. This was rejected as inadequate by the families.
The trauma suffered by family members has led to three suicides since the massacre, including that of 15-year-old Ayabonga Jokanisi, whose father Semi Jokanisi was killed by police on August 13.
Zondo said the figure was “bordering on an insult” and pointed out that the state had offered R200 000 for general damages to the families of each victim of the recent Life Esidimeni tragedy.
“This has been a common approach by the state, to treat the families as the aggressors rather than the victims of Marikana,” said Zondo.
The charge that the “government has treated us like criminals and the families of criminals” has been a common refrain over the past five years. Former president Jacob Zuma refused the families’ request to notify them when he would release the Marikana commission report, which left them scrambling to find radios or televisions when he released the report in June 2015. There was no time to prepare counselling for them.
Last year, the government concluded a loss-of-support settlement of R3.9-million with the family of one of those killed in the masscre. The deceased, who was represented by the Legal Resources Centre, was shot dead at scene one, close to the koppie where the miners gathered daily to protest.
Zondo said Seri and the state attorney’s office had agreed to use that formula to calculate their clients’ claims. But this year, the government performed an about-turn and insisted on a different formula. In the case of one family, where the deceased miner was 61 years old when he was killed, an offer of R200 000 for loss of income was offered based on the assumption that he would have retired four years after the massacre. Another family had been offered nothing because the deceased had been fired from Lonmin two years before he was shot dead at scene two.
At the time of going to press the justice department had not yet responded to specific questions regarding the state attorney’s approach to the negotiations and it’s inability to conclude the settlement for the families.
In his address, Ramaphosa said he was “determined to play whatever role I can … in the process of healing and atonement. In this, I am guided by the needs and wishes of the families of the 44 workers who lost their lives.”
His acting spokesperson, Tyrone Seale, said timelines had not yet been set for its conclusion. He said Ramaphosa was setting up a team to work on the consultations, which would include people such as Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Zondo said the families “were clear last year that what they wanted was for Ramaphosa to meet them privately, not on the podium. The widows want to meet face to face and [for] the loss of their husbands to be recognised,” she said.
The names of the families are known to the M&G but have been held back for reasons of sensitivity