Editorial: Never forget Marikana
There are two points in the documentary Miners Shot Down when you can adopt false hope that everything will turn out all right, and that the horrendous events that shred the fabric of our fragile democracy might not in fact happen.
The first is when a group of the striking mineworkers are trying to return home on their way back from the Lonmin mine. They are confronted by an assembly of armed policemen. The leaders of the workers’ group take turns to plead with the police to let them pass through. North West deputy police commissioner William Mpembe wants them to hand over their sticks and spears. They explain that they need them for protection and undertake to surrender them once they get safely to their destination. There are a few moments when they appear to find each other, and, as is human nature, it leads you to believe rationality will prevail.
Of course it does not.
The second point when you can mistakenly believe disaster can be avoided is when Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa addresses the mineworkers at the koppie the day before the massacre. He seemed to be the only person willing to talk to the workers like they are normal human beings. He gives them certain undertakings and they agree to disperse and meet again the next day.
Maybe it will be okay, your mind wills you to think. Again, of course, it is not.
Watch: Miners Shot Down, a film by Rehad Desai
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The footage after both these key moments show the deliberate aggression of the police, for reasons they are yet to explain that makes any reasonable sense. The evidence presented to the Marikana Commission of Inquiry by police management, from National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega down the ranks to those in charge of the operation, shows acute contempt for the process of investigating why the workers were killed.
It follows a trend of government leaders shunning accountability for their actions, and showing disdain for the people they are meant to serve. The commission has dragged on for close to two years now and what is apparent is that it is being used as a platform to excuse and dodge responsibility for the use of maximum force by the state against civilians, rather than a mechanism to uncover the truth about events at Marikana in August 2012.
Last week, the highest-ranking political official to appear before the commission again brought to the fore the deadly nexus between Lonmin, the National Union of Mineworkers and the state. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa’s evidence showed the callous disregard for the plight of the workers and the reasons for their anger.
Two years later, not much has changed. The surviving mineworkers who were at the commission last week were enraged by Ramaphosa’s testimony and the fact that they live and work in exactly the same conditions that caused the uprising in 2012. And like in 2012, Ramaphosa did not acknowledge them or try to understand their frustration. He is no longer on the Lonmin board, so any gesture he made towards the workers need not have been a commitment to assist them. All it would have been was an act of human compassion.
The people of Marikana are desperate that the rest of the world recognises their suffering. The second anniversary of the massacre this weekend was again politicised, with the ANC and government failing to attend because they said they were not invited. Why were they not the ones organising the event? Why are the memorial events always the initiative of civil society and not the organisation which has always claimed to represent the hopes and aspirations of the poor and the disadvantaged in our society? Why does the democratic government that professes to be instrument of radical change keep distancing itself from the wretched of Marikana, forcing them to swallow their misery?
The event, like the one last year, became a platform for the state and the ruling to be bashed and accused of murder. There was nobody there to counter that message and explain whatever it is that government’s approach is. President Jacob Zuma issued a message saying the anniversary of the massacre was time for reflection. “We need to recommit ourselves to ensuring that violence is never again used to solve problems of any kind in our country,” he said.
That message did not reach Marikana on Saturday.
The ANC also issued a media statement saying it hoped the Marikana commission would soon conclude its business and “provide much needed answers to our country and the world on what transpired on those fateful days in Marikana”.
The ANC does not say why it is waiting for a judicial commission to conclude before it can reach out to a community that suffered horrendous violence and trauma.
The Marikana Commission, unlike the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is not there to help the families and heal the wounds of the victims. Until the families got to testify last week, it had been a legally heavy process with a mostly technical interrogation of the facts and evidence. If anything, there has been little attention given to the battery of emotions of the survivors and the victim’s families. Only now, two years later, the families of the dead, who went through hell themselves, starving and cold and harassed by the police, are being heard.
Have we lost our sense of humanity?
As Daily Maverick reported on 17 September 2012, mere thirty days after the massacre:
After the police shot 112 miners on 16 August, killing 34 of them, the state of South Africa could have, should have, shown empathy and care for the people that everyone forgot for such a long time. Instead, they chose to let NGOs deliver food and care for the hungry and sick, while they opted for the delivery of teargas, rubber bullets and intimidation.
Make no mistake: what is happening today just a stone’s throw away from the blood-soaked field of Marikana, is nothing but a state repression. The government of South Africa decided that it was better for it to be feared than loved. What they achieved is something different: They are now hated. And a government that is hated by its own people has no credibility.
Nothing has changed since then.
This never-ending wait is just another indicator of the continuing agony of that community of Marikana, who wait for answers and for justice while the rest of the world continues on its way. What happens then if the commission finds that the 44 deaths were a result of multiple failures of all the players involved and stops there? What if at the end of this protracted process, still nobody is prosecuted and held accountable. Does our society simply move on as if it does not matter?
Does it in fact matter?
For the people of Ferguson in Missouri, the shooting of a single person by a police officer, an unarmed teenage boy called Mike Brown, has set off rioting and looting. Defiance of a curfew has resulted in the governor declaring a state of emergency. It is not that their anger finding expression in violence is justified; it is that a single life taken by the police was significant enough for his community to rise up.
The violence in Ferguson prompted US President Barack Obama to make the following statement: “I’ve already tasked the Department of Justice and the FBI to independently investigate the death of Michael Brown. I made clear to the attorney general that we should do what is necessary to help determine exactly what happened and to see that justice is done.”
He went on to say: “I know emotions are raw right now in Ferguson, and there are certainly passionate differences about what has happened. But let’s remember that we’re all part of one American family. We are united in common values and that includes the belief in equality under the law, respect for public order and the right to peaceful public protests.”
Similar statements may or may not have been made in the wake of the Marikana massacre. Perhaps a commitment to swift justice from the highest office may have made the difference here, instead of a prolonged process of buck passing and legal hide-and-seek would have helped the people of Marikana move on. Most significant in that statement though is whether we could ever consider ourselves as part of the same South African family as the people of Marikana. If we did, perhaps it would be easy to find our humanity and show compassion.
As Daily Maverick mentioned before, South Africans suffer these days from a serious scandal fatigue. The daily life is not easy for many, and there’s not much time or energy left for a nationwide outburst of outrage. Sometimes march of time makes crimes forgotten or somehow feel less horrendous. Today, South Africa is in danger of forgetting Marikana. While the populist politicians will continue using the horror for their own narrow political goals, the rest of the country will most likely go on with their lives.
The second anniversary of the Marikana massacre has passed, justice still seems far off and the community is still immersed in daily hurt and pain. Do the rest of us look away, exactly the preferred approach of all those who contributed to the carnage and would like South Africa to forget what happened that wintry day in August 2012? Or do we join/remain in the small but hopefully still significant chorus of those demanding justice for those who fell at Marikana and for the greater community of that godforsaken place?
What should the South African family do? DM
Photo: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko