/ 18 August 2022

Ten years later, still no memorial park at site of Marikana massacre

Ten years later, there is still no memorial park or commemorative plaque at the place where, in August 2012, 34 Lonmin mine workers were shot dead by police at the infamous Marikana koppie during a violent wage dispute in August 2012.

In total, 44 people were killed during that grim week — including an initial 10, some of them mine workers who opted to go to work as well as two police officers and two security guards — allegedly slain by those on strike in the days leading up to the shooting on 16 August.

Sibanye-Stillwater, the company which took over the mine through its acquisition of Lonmin, says it is still untangling the administrative mess that has delayed the memorial project.

Driving into Nkaneng, the informal settlement which mushroomed near the platinum mine, it is evident that very little has changed over the past decade.

The tarred surface ends less than a kilometre from the mine, and a sand and stone road leads to the koppie. Along the way there, corrugated iron structures line one side of the road. Live wires act as a ceiling between the sky and the metal shacks. 

“That’s Nkaneng, where 2-3% of our employees reside,” said Sibanye-Stillwater’s spokesperson James Wellsted, as a bus load of journalists travelled to the koppie, courtesy of the company. Opposite the shacks is dry land, littered with rubbish, goats and chicken. Cattle also graze here.  

Questions about the absence of a memorial plaque appeared to make the hosts uncomfortable. 

Sibanye-Stillwater acquired Lonmin in 2019 for R4.3-billion, along with 24 000 employees and contractors at the Marikana operation. 

“It was a great acquisition,” Wellsted said. But Sibanye also acquired some of Lonmin’s baggage. 

A year ago  Xolani Nzuza, who still leads the cause of the miners complained bitterly about how nine years since the massacre “the koppie still means nothing”.

“Every year on 16 August we are told the same stories of fixing this mess,” said Nzuza, who was the “second-in-command” of the miners sitting on the koppie that fateful week. He still has a case of murder against him over his alleged role in the deaths that occurred in the days leading to the police shooting.

When Sibanye took over the operations in 2019, no one had asked for permission from the land owners to actually erect a memorial at the koppie, the company’s executive vice-president for stakeholder relations Thabisile Phumo said.

 “So, even if we wanted to do it [sooner], it could never have been done,” she said. “We spent the last two years negotiating with the land owners and I’m pleased to say we have (now) received permission to construct a memorial at the koppie.”

The land owners in question are the Bapo ba Mogale, a traditional authority whose seat is on the rich platinum deposits in the North West province.

The plan to erect the memorial, coined “project green blanket” was launched by Lonmin in 2017. The project name is a reference to mine worker Mgcineni Noki, who featured in several images and videos of marches and meetings during the strike, with a bright green blanket wrapped around his shoulders. 

Noki was from Twalikhulu in the Eastern Cape and had worked for Lonmin since 2009. He was among those killed on 16 August 2012 after being shot 14 times by the police. 

Having various stakeholders who want their own vision to be realised around the Marikana memorial has complicated the process, Wellsted said. 

These include Sibanye-Stillwater, Bapo Ba Mogale, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), the local municipality and the widows of those slain.

Phumo added: “In 2019 when we arrived the widows said if Sibanye is determined to take over from Lonmin it needs to ‘own’ the legacy of Lonmin in Marikana and erect a memorial.”

She denied media reports that the company had erected a memorial inside the mine rather than at the koppie, saying this was in fact a wall of remembrance which Sibanye has at all its mines, featuring the names of those killed in work-related accidents.

“The families, including the ones of the people who didn’t pass on the 16th have all agreed to have their 44 names marked at this site. We wanted the families to be heavily involved in the design. So, all things being equal, we should be able to commence the construction this year,” Phumo added.

The delay in constructing the memorial park is also partly due to the Covid-19 pandemic, said Fritz Jooste, Sibanye-Stillwater’s group manager of properties.

“If you look at the Sibanye clock, we’ve only had three years, since 2019 to look into this matter and how to best engage it … but now we want to finalise the design and God-willing there won’t be any pandemics so we can finish it by next year,” he said. 

“It will be situated in between the two koppies where the majority of the deaths occurred on 16 August 2012 and it will have an amphitheatre with indigenous plants and trees and walkways and a commemorative monument. We would like for people to visit the area.”

A former Lonmin executive told the Mail & Guardian that during their time at the company, it had designed a memorial to be built at the koppie and committed R10-million to get it done. The plan was given to Amcu for approval, given the union’s close ties with the widows, but nothing came of it.

Efforts by the M&G to get comment from Amcu were to no avail.

Anathi Madubela is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the M&G.