By: Thabisile Miya
The month of August marks a crucial time in South African history as we commemorate the 11th anniversary of the Marikana Massacre which took place 11 years ago this month. This tragic event has etched a hurtful memory in our 29-year democracy.
Police unleashed gunshots at protesting mineworkers at the Lonmin mine in Marikana Rustenburg following wage negotiations and labour disputes with the mining executive. On the 16th of August 2012, police unleashed R5 bullets on protesting miners on their way back from the famous “koppie” which they had gathered. In the days leading to the 16th of August, there had been news reports of the strike which sought to resolve some of the working conditions at the mine. One of their demands was calling for a salary increase from a mere R4000 to R12500.
Following disputes between the National Union of Mine Workers (NUM) and the Lonmin miners, the miners had decided to proceed with the strike after NUM rejected the miner’s demands. The events which followed saw the deployment of different South African Police Service (SAPS) tactical units armed with R5’s high-velocity rifles developed by the country’s arms industry for use in border wars especially during the 1970-80 period. This created a volatile situation  in which eventually 34 miners were shot dead by the police and more sustained grave injuries.
Ten years later, the widows of the miners who lost their lives on that day have expressed their discontentment with President Cyril Ramaphosa who was then a non-executive director at Lonmin for failure to come forward and apologise for masterminding what would be the clash between the miners and police. The commission on the massacre revealed emails between Ramaphosa and the Lonmin executive detailed the events which took place before the massacre as “plainly dastardly criminal” and that there must be “concomitant action” to address it  The former deputy president at the time referred to the striking miners’ concerns between the mine and their representative union as plainly criminal since they rejected the decision by NUM to halt the strike. The miners proceeding with the strike despite the failure of the mining executives to arrange alternatives to resolve the matter was seen as a criminal matter and thus the instruction for it to be addressed as such.
The commission ruling on the Massacre detailed that those who were responsible for the deaths of the 34 miners should be prosecuted yet the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) has not acted on any prosecutions, 10 years later. The NPA had been instructed to investigate SAPS and the police officers who were instructed by the mining executive to use lethal weapons and delay emergency response to injured protestors. Among others who were implicated were then National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega and North West Police Commission Zukiswa Mbombo . The report recommendations indicate that the police bosses implemented the tactical option hastily without proper public order crowd dispersion or evaluation which led to the tragic events where lives were lost.
So far none of the involved parties have taken accountability for what occurred on the 16th of August 2012 in this crossfire which rendered the victims of the miners who died fatherless and without breadwinners. Compensation for the families and victims has been a long-drawn-out process where Lonmin had faulted on some of their promises including building housing for the families. Thus far some of the families have received compensation some are still in litigation to secure their compensation and other demands such as; the erection of a monumental statue with all the 34 miners’ names at the koppie and for the area to be cordoned off to signify the gravity of the tragic event which took place.
Despite Marikana having happened 11 years ago, human rights activists and organizations alike have sounded the alarm bell at the police brutality experienced by civilians at the hands of the SAPS. Many have likened the raging brutality to what Afrikaner police unleashed on innocent South Africans during Apartheid. Many instances have served as constant reminders of the brutalization and criminalization faced by South Africans during #FeesMustFall, service delivery protests, the COVID-19 lockdown period when soldiers were deployed in communities to enforce COVID-19 regulations, and the recent July KZN unrest. These have signalled the unwarranted and undeserved way of the loss of life.
In a country still reeling from a traumatic past and in which socioeconomic conditions have worsened since Apartheid what does the use of police force for repression mean especially in a fairly young democracy? When the President is unashamed in his quick deployment of the police force and can go about without being held accountable for his actions what does that mean for the ever-growing hostile situations between South Africans and migrants, the rising battle to contain femicide and the growing crime stats where prosecutions are not fulfilled, and the sight or mere thought of justice diminishes by the day. Is this the South Africa many voted for in 1994?
The Marikana Massacre forces us to take stock of every single injustice that continues to be perpetuated by an uncaring, thieving government that continues to allow the erosion and debilitation of South African society. We commemorate two historical events, the Women’s March of 1956 and the Marikana Massacre. Citizens need to be fully aware of the ways in which our government continues to fail us as women, children, the widows of Marikana, and the communities of mining towns whose socioeconomic conditions haven’t improved but worsened after the tragic events unfolded. Reports of the living conditions of the communities in Marikana and the rest of South Africa paint a disturbing picture of hopelessness, young people dependent on drugs to medicate the trauma of being fatherless and subject to a life with no dignity where the unemployment rates are among the highest they have been.
We must keep questioning the lack of justice for the widows of Marikana who emerged from that traumatic event without partners and have had to take on the role of being single parents and breadwinners. Apartheid displaced family structures in our communities and the effects of those still linger even in the present. We should be in support of the call for justice for the families, the intergenerational trauma which plagued families during apartheid should not be the norm for the victims of Marikana. As we celebrate Women’s Month, it is imperative to ensure that our government is held accountable for turning a blind eye to these communities.
In a country where our history is built on human rights and the rule of law, seeing these events which should have been buried in our racist and hurtful past, continue to plague us and be replicated by our current government should signal that all is not well. It is only a matter of time before South Africans revolt against the worsening socioeconomic conditions and the way they are met and engaged by those who lead.
About the author:
Thabisile Miya works in the NGO space, is passionate about digital advocacy and writes to make sense of the world.