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Six years on, still no justice or closure for Marikana victims

It has been described as the worst act of South African police brutality since the end of apartheid. On the afternoon of August 16 2012, some 34 striking miners were shot dead by police outside the Lonmin platinum mines on the outskirts of the dusty town of Marikana, in the country’s northwest.

In a video which circulated far and wide, police officers were seen spraying hundreds of bullets wildly at miners who had stubbornly gathered to demand better pay and living conditions.

In all, 47 people were killed, including miners, four security guards and two police officers between August 13 and 16.

A nation was left stunned and in mourning.

Six years later, families of the victims are still awaiting compensation and justice.

Though the president-appointed Farlam Commission found that a defective police plan was in part to blame for the massacre, not only has the South African Police Services (SAPS) refused to apologise, but the officers involved in the shooting are yet to be held to account.

Nomzamo Zondo, director of Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri), a group representing the miners, said the state’s response over the past six years does not give the “impression that they want the families to heal or that they actually matter”.

“Internally, as an institution, the police have not accepted responsibility for what happened,” Zondo said.

“Very early on, from the commission of enquiry, the miners’ families have been treated like second-class citizens,” she added.

“The families still want to know why their loved ones were killed.”

In July 2018, the government reportedly offered R100-million as damages to 36 miners (one miner reached a settlement separately). Zondo says that the families have not rejected the deal outright.

“They want us to explore it,” she said.

But Zondo added the manner in which compensation was offered left a lot to be desired.

“The way it has been presented to was like this: ‘We shot your husband, here is R500 000,” Zondo said.

“Part of the demand for a settlement is that families also want an apology from the police and authorities. This part would have come from a caring state.”

‘No apology’

From the outset, police say they acted in self-defence, claiming to have opened fire after being shot at by the striking miners — it is an early characterisation of the striking miners that has been difficult to shake off.

While the commission did not find evidence of the police having been attacked, it said the “police had reasonable grounds for believing they were under attack”.

At the same time, it said that some police officers had provided false testimony when explaining the deaths of some miners. In one case, the police had declared that one miner, Modisaotsile Van Wyk Sagalala, had died at a hospital. Later, the Independent Police Investigative Directive (Ipid), the body that provides oversight to the South African police, found evidence that he had, in fact, died while in police custody.

“There is overwhelming evidence to support that SAPS intentionally failed to disclose the information to the Commission,” Moses Dlamini, media liaison officer for Ipid said.

In a report released on Wednesday, Institute of Security Studies (ISS) researcher David Bruce said that there was significant evidence to suggest that in the second of two incidents that took place on August 16 2012, police were not under threat when they opened fire.

Researchers say that many of the miners were shot at close-range, including in the back of the head, or in the face, in wounds that resembled executions.

Dlamini, from IPID, told Al Jazeera that charges against eight police officers involved in the incidents on August 12 had been filed. After completing its investigation on the events of August 16, recommendations were passed on to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) in August 2017.

“We were told last year that the concerned police officers would be prosecuted, but a year later, nothing has been done,” Zondo, from SERI, said.

The NPA did not respond to requests for comment despite several attempts to do so.

‘Periodic commemoration’

On Wednesday, Lonmin held a ceremony to commemorate the workers killed in August 2012.

But the gesture is unlikely to detract from tumultuous developments in the sector.

Last week Impala Platinum‚ the world’s second-largest platinum producer‚ said it would cull 13 000 jobs at its mines, following a decision to close down five of its 11 shafts over the next two years.

Then on Monday, Lonmin said it would be cutting some 12 600 jobs over the next three years following what they described as “years of losses”. The announcement comes six months after Lonmin’s chief executive accepted a salary increase for the first time in five years.

With South Africa’s unemployment soaring at around 27%, the developments have roused panic.

The Department of Mineral Resources called Impala Platinum’s decision “careless” and “reckless”, while the governing ANC urged the companies to reconsider.

In response to the news, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) said it will embark on a new wave of strike action to protest against the decision.

“Popular research has shown that one salary in the mining sector actually represents between five and 10 livelihoods of spouses and family members dependent on said salary,” Joseph Mathunjwa, Amcu president, told a press conference last week.

“This could mean up to 130 000 people [will be] directly affected by the looming retrenchments,” he added.

In many ways, the never-ending spectre of job cuts, low salaries and poor living conditions, at the centre of the desperate strike action in 2012 that led to the Marikana massacre, never truly went away.

For the workers at Lonmin, the disconnect between the lives and the wealth they unearth for one of the largest companies in the world remains as stark as ever.

“Despite periodic commemorations, I do not see how Marikana has influenced how South Africans view the relationship between business and the ruling elites. Given how tragic Marikana was, I do not see sufficient reflections on the tragedy by South Africa,” political analyst Ralph Mathekga said.

“I do not think we have moved on; I think there is some element of denial regarding this. We are often reminded about Marikana, yet we do not reflect deeply about it,” Mathekga said.

As a hotbed of protest, resentment and insecurity, little has changed at the mines. The killings and their aftermath merely provide opposition parties with endless fodder to throw punches at the ANC-led government without much concern for the people themselves.

“Indeed Marikana is used as a political tool,” said Mathekga.

‘Waiting for an apology’

The slow move towards a paid settlement and the refusal from the state to offer an unreserved apology has also left activists and the bereaved families bitter with President Cyril Ramaphosa.

The president, a non-executive director of Lonmin at the time of the massacre, has long been seen as partly culpable for the stern police action. On August 15 2012, Ramaphosa had sent an email to Lonmin’s chief commercial officer, describing the ongoing strikes as “plainly dastardly criminal … there needs to be concomitant action to address this situation”.

Though the Commission cleared Ramaphosa of any wrongdoing, Zondo, from SERI, said there are many who refuse to accept that he played no part in the disaster.

“There are widows who still feel Ramaphosa is culpable … he is still tied to Marikana,” she said.

Responding to enquiries over the long-held perceptions that Ramaphosa was partly responsible for Marikana, Khusela Diko, the president’s spokesperson, said that the president “is on record several times expressing his deepest regret for the tragedy that transpired in Marikana”.

“He has committed himself to work in whatever way he is able with all stakeholders to address lingering concerns in Marikana and for healing and closure,” she said.

Diko also confirmed that Ramaphosa will be out of the country on Thursday when the country commemorates the incident.

Zondo said that the state refuses to acknowledge that the miners and their families are the victims. “The reality is that there is a lot of pain, trauma, and there have been suicides in families — and all of this dates back to 2012.”

In recent days, activists have been warning that without said accountability, another Marikana-type incident could easily take place again.

It is an incident that has “not sufficiently taken seriously to a point where one can say it has changed the country”, said Matheka. — Al Jazeera

Additional reporting by Lizeka Maduna. 

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Azad Essa
Azad Essa works from New York | Johannesburg. Journalist @MiddleEastEye; Associate at Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard Uni; @AJEnglish alum Azad Essa has over 26489 followers on Twitter.

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