Calls for August 16 to be declared a public holiday “just like June 16” were made at the fifth commemoration of the Marikana tragedy, when 34 striking mineworkers were killed by the police.
Amongst those making the call was Economic Freedom Fighters’ leader Julius Malema who said there was “no difference between June 16, Sharpeville Day and Marikana Day”. He added that this day did not “exclusively belong to anyone (but) to the working class” of this country.
For Lonmin workers, the day is already a holiday in that none of them go to work on August 16 but have since 2013 used it to remember those who perished in a hail of bullets during the 2012 violent wage strike.
Today was no different as workers braved dusty winds and came in large numbers to remember their departed colleagues.
As usual, they gathered in the open space between the infamous “koppie” where about 3 000 strikers gathered five years ago, and the kraal on the outskirts of Nkaneng informal settlement, which is the scene of the first killing seen on television where police mowed down 16 mineworkers.
Eight more were killed about 300 metres away at the “small koppie”, out of sight of cameras. Today, five years later, speakers at the commemoration event called for justice for the victims of the tragedy which has also been referred to as a “massacre”.
Among those in attendance were United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa and Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane.
Widows and family members of the deceased also sat on the podium and later went to lay wreaths at the two scenes.
Keynote speaker and Association of Mineworkers and Construction Association (Amcu) President Joseph Mathunjwa said August 16 was a “painful reminder of how long these families have been suffering”, adding that five years later not even a single police officer had answered for the mass killings.
He said it was time for those who killed workers to take responsibility.
“They need to come and tell the truth about what happened in 2012 (otherwise) there will be no forgiveness or peace. The journey may be long but it’s worth travelling in our quest for truth and justice ... no amount of lies can hide the truth,” Mathunjwa said.
A representative of the deceased miners’ families, Goodman Jokanise, said they believed their loved ones were killed “for nothing”. He asked if there was anything wrong for them to sit on the mountain and ask for a salary increase.
“The police killed them in broad daylight but to this day, we’re yet to see any of them being arrested or face the consequences for their deeds,” he said.
Jokanise said Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was in 2012 a shareholder in Lonmin and had asked for some action to control the violent strike, should “be punished” if he is responsible for any deaths.
One of the leaders of the 2012 strike, Xolani Nzuza, reiterated calls for the police to be arrested for killing his colleagues. Nzuza said he was, together with 16 others, facing charges of murder among others.
“The truth is we did not attack the police. We were attacked,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mathunjwa has warned his union will march to the Union Buildings against the looming jobs bloodbath in the mining sector with or without permission. He said Amcu was struggling to get permission from Nedlac to march to the government headquarters in Pretoria.
“If (Nedlac) does not grant us permission, we will close all mines and go march without permission. We’ll come back and if they want to shed a job, we will shut down all mines,” he said.
While there was not much clarity around when families of deceased miners will be compensated by government, Lonmin’s chief executive Ben Magara said his company had been playing its role.
He said as “tragic as it was, (August 16) can be a catalyst for change” adding that Lonmin had been taking care of all schooling needs of 153 children of a total of 44 of its employees killed in 2012. Magara said one of the deceased’s dependents had already graduated with a BSc degree in agriculture through Lonmin’s financial support.