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Extract: We are going to kill each other today – the Marikana story

2019-08-16 12:29

We are going to kill each other today – the Marikana story was written by Felix Dalangamandla, Thanduxolo Jika, Lucas Ledwaba, Sebabatso Mosamo, Athandiwe Saba and Leon Sadiki. It details the events surround the massacre, which took place on August 16 2012. This is an extract from Chapter 3.

‘We are ending this today’

Police had made it clear that Thursday August 16 was D-day. They were ending the mine workers’ vigil that had for the past week, attracted throngs of local and international media to the previously unknown township of Wonderkop at Marikana.

That morning, in the boardroom of the platinum mining house Lonmin, one of the main protagonists in the unfolding strike, North West police provincial commissioner Lieutenant General Zukiswa Mbombo had told journalists during a media conference, ‘we are ending this today, don’t ask me how, but today we are ending this.’

In an interview with television news channel e-news shortly after the media briefing, Mbombo said: ‘if they resist, like I said, today is a day that we intend to end the violence.’

AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa, in is submission before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, said Mbombo had expressed the same view to him during a brief, ill tempered conversation at the JOC a few hours before the shooting.

Mathunjwa, frustrated at being shunted from one person to another in his efforts to broker peace that day, said Mbombo had told him ‘she was now in charge of the operation and said this thing must end today because it is costing the state a lot of money.’

Yet even the warning by the province’s most senior police officer, that Thursday August 16 was D-Day, did not at all provide a hint of the bloodshed that was to be shed a few hours later that day.

The previous two days, police top brass, union leaders and Lonmin management had worked on efforts to convince the workers to lay down arms, disperse and seek alternative measures within the labour dispute resolution systems to resolve the matter.

As dusk fell over Marikana on Wednesday, August 15, a police Nyala drove in from the south of the koppie where at least 3 000 of the striking men had gathered. Driving alongside the armoured vehicle was a team of crack police officers from specialised units, the National Intervention Unit and the Special Task Force.

Miners gathered at the koppie in Nkaneng behind Lonmin mine outside Rustenburg in 2013 to commemorate the fateful day of August 16 2012 when 34 miners were shot and killed by police in what is now called the Marikana massacre. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/Foto24

By then, with the death toll now at 10, police had brought in reinforcements from the Tactical Reaction Unit, Special Task Force, National Intervention Unit and the K-9. They had started arriving in Marikana on the afternoon of Tuesday, August 14 from as far afield as Eastern Cape, KwaZulu Natal, Free State and Mafikeng.

However, the deployment of the Tactical Reaction Unit, National Intervention Unit and the Special Task Force, have come under heavy criticism from lawyers representing the victims of the shooting and policing experts.

George Bizos SC, has argued before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry that some of the units deployed there ‘were trained to kill people.’ Bizos argued that the fact that there were only 176 public-order policing-unit officers deployed in Marikana on August 16, compared with 337 from specialised units, showed the police’s aim was not crowd control, but confrontation.

The public-order policing unit is trained in crowd control, while the tactical reaction unit, special task force and the national intervention unit specialise in hostage release, counterterrorism, and foiling cash-in-transit heists and bank robberies.

Back at the koppie on August 15, NUM president Senzeni Zokwana, was in one of the vehicles, being driven to the koppie as part of efforts to get the union leaders to broker a peace deal with the striking workers.

Bizos argued that the police’s aim was not crowd control, but confrontation

The Marikana Commission of Inquiry has heard that the relationship between the NUM and AMCU had soured to such levels that delegates from the two organisations had refused to travel in the same vehicle to the koppie and had to be transported separately.

Earlier, in a meeting between Lonmin, NUM and SAPS, Major-General William Mpembe, the deputy provincial commissioner of police in North West province, who was also in charge of operations at the JOC, had explained that the koppie was now a security zone.

Mathunjwa told the Marikana Commission of Inquiry that Mpembe told them at the meeting ‘he needed the intervention of the leadership of both unions to go to the koppie and talk to the workers and tell them to disperse. He further said that the workers should be told to leave all their weapons on the koppie.’

The public-order policing unit is trained in crowd control, while the tactical reaction unit, special task force and the national intervention unit specialise in hostage release, counterterrorism, and foiling cash-in-transit heists and bank robberies.

Mathunjwa said Mpembe had made it clear that the people on the koppie consisted of both NUM and AMCU members.

‘In particular, the General (Mpembe) mentioned that four people had been identified as leaders and that two of these were NUM members and two of them were AMCU members. This was said, specifically in response to Mr Zokwana’s claim that it was not NUM members who were sitting on the koppie.’

Mpembe explained that each union would have three officials or office bearers that would be escorted in police vehicles and that the union officials could not use their own cars.

‘From the base we would be escorted to a holding point near the koppie, where we would be transferred to armoured vehicles and from there each union would go to the koppie and address the workers. NUM went first,’ Mathunjwa said.

Zokwana, escorted by police, drove to the koppie with Gcilitshana and Moloi.

There was a flurry of activity as he arrived, journalists trying to get closer to the action and the men from the STF and the NIU, armed and ready, forming a boundary between the workers and the media contingent and the crowd.

‘When you are here, your safety is in my hands,’ Mpembe was heard saying to a journalist who attempted to surge ahead towards the koppie where the men sat singing.

Miners singing at the koppie in Marikana during the commemoration of the fateful day four years ago. Lonmin miners embarked on an unprotected strike demanding R12 500 wage increase. Picture: Felix Dlangamandla/Netwerk24

This is how Zokwana explains the situation in his submission before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry: ‘As the vehicle approached the koppie, I heard the crowd singing an anti-NUM song and rhythmically clashing their weapons together. A small group of men standing in front of a larger group beckoned to the vehicle to drive forward, which it did until it came to a halt close to a line of large rocks. Two of the group approached the Nyala and said that I should leave the vehicle and come closer to the strikers on foot in order to address them.’

He began speaking through a loudhailer from inside the police Nyala, but the men broke into song again, cluttering their weapons to the beat of the song that called for the killing of NUM and Zokwana himself.

‘It was clear that the group was not prepared to listen to me. I nevertheless tried to address them,’ Zokwana said.

But he went on anyway, trying to persuade the workers to lay down arms and disperse and allow raise their grievances through the proper bargaining processes. But the men were having none of it, and instead, with the sun forming a huge orange ball in the distant west, they raised their singing to the heavens.

They took up the anti NUM song with gusto, plumes of dust clouding the air as some of them, unable to contain their emotions, rose and stomped the ground with their feet.

Zokwana made a hasty retreat, escorted back to the JOC by the armed police while his opponent, Mathunjwa, made the trip to the koppie, also under heavy police escort.

It was getting dark when we arrived at the koppie. We were about forty meters away from the workers. I wanted to get out of the vehicle to speak to the workers face to face. I was advised by the SAPS that I could not get out of the Nyala as it was not allowed in terms of their protocol.

‘I went with the national organiser and the branch chairman. We were transported to the holding point in a SAPS minibus. From the holding point we were transported in a SAPS armoured vehicle known as a Nyala.

‘It was getting dark when we arrived at the koppie. We were about forty meters away from the workers. I wanted to get out of the vehicle to speak to the workers face to face. I was advised by the SAPS that I could not get out of the Nyala as it was not allowed in terms of their protocol,’ Mathunjwa said.

After his two comrades, Nkalitshana and XXX had offered their greetings through a loudhailer and introduced Mathunjwa, it was his turn now at trying to convince the men to lay down their arms and disperse.

Mathunjwa worked the crowd into a frenzy.

‘Amaaaaandla!’ he roared through the loudhailer from inside the police Nyala.

‘Ngawethu!’ the men roared like the thunder in acknowledgement, their collective salute infecting the dark sky like the buzz of a million bees.

‘Matiiiiiimba!’ Mathunjwa roared again in Shangaan, the language spoken by Mozambican men who work on the mines.

Again, that rumbling, thunderlike roar in response: ‘Ayina!’

‘I explained that it was not my intention to come to the mine under these circumstances in the armoured vehicle, but it was protocol from the SAPS that I had to adhere to.

‘I told the workers that we had been to management and that management was asking all the workers to renounce violence and leave the koppie. I told the workers that management said the workers should also return to work peacefully. I said management indicated that it would then engage with the workers on their grievances,’ said Mathunjwa.

NUM had a principled position that it would not talk to AMCU around the same table – this had been made clear during the earlier meeting. Because of this, the SAPS had a briefing with management and NUM and thereafter AMCU was called and we had a separate de-briefing

‘Thereafter one of the workers came up to me and spoke through the small window in the Nyala and then he took the loudhailer. I could not see him as it was dark.

‘This worker thanked me for coming to the koppie. He said that the workers did not want to listen to Mr Zokwana because NUM leaders had shot at them.

‘At some stage the loudhailer was given to a second person – though I could not see as it was dark. The workers said that they understood the message from management but it was now getting dark. They said I should come back the next morning and we would then see how they would go back to work,’ said Mathunjwa.

After the address, Mathunjwa and his delegation headed back to the JOC for a de-briefing with the SAPS, NUM and Lonmin. But even there, the enmity between the two unions reared its head again.

‘NUM had a principled position that it would not talk to AMCU around the same table – this had been made clear during the earlier meeting. Because of this, the SAPS had a briefing with management and NUM and thereafter AMCU was called and we had a separate de-briefing,’ Mathunjwa submitted before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.

After the debriefing, everyone was positive. I was given no indication whatsoever that there was any intention of using violence the next day

But in his submission, Zokwana denied this, claiming instead, that it was AMCU that refused to sit in the same de-briefing as NUM.

And so, the two unions were briefed separately The de-briefing was about two issues. The first was safety and security that would be under the care of the General.

‘We said that the workers had been receptive to the proposal that they return to work and that we would see them again in the morning to discuss the matter further,’ Mathunjwa said.

‘After the debriefing, everyone was positive. I was given no indication whatsoever that there was any intention of using violence the next day,’ Mathunjwa said.

That night, at the police JOC set up at the Lonmin offices some 3km away at the outbreak of the strike, police top brass waited in anticipation, to see if Mathunjwa’s undertaking that the workers would lay down their arms the following day at 9am would materialise.

Mathunjwa arrived at the JOC at 08h20, anticipating that police would be available to transport him and his delegation to the koppie to address the workers and possibly get them to lay down arms and disperse.

At 6h00 the next morning, August 16, the police command structure and all operational commanders met at the JOC where a report was tabled, saying that informers had indicated that protesters, many of them who carried dangerous weapons, would return to the koppie that morning and would not hand their weapons to the police.


One of the commanders at the meeting, Major General Ganasen Naidoo, deputy provincial commissioner operations in North West, said in his submission before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry that after this briefing, it was decided to place a contingency plan in place that should the strikers fail to disperse as agreed upon, ‘the SAPS will have to undertake a dispersal action and thereafter disarm the strikers as well.’

This plan included the setting up of razor wire trailers ‘so that police personnel could also have some protection during the dispersal action so that the crowd did not disperse into police lines and cause injury or harm as they did on Monday 2012/08/13.’

‘We deployed to our positions and as the situation could possibly escalate, there was a plan to secure weapons should it be laid down by the Special Task Force and the National Intervention Unit who were placed in a closer proximity to koppie 1 in what was known as an immediate response area.’

It appeared that management had changed its mind overnight. I said to Mr Kwadi that Lonmin had betrayed us.

Naidoo says that the 09h00 deadline passed and it became clear that the undertaking to lay down weapons would not be met by the strikers and he was informed that there would be another briefing of commanders at 14h00 that day.

An entry in the police Occurrence Book at the JOC at 08h50 that morning, records that a police chopper reported that there were approximately 100 people at the koppie and there were others on the way.

Yet, the man who was supposed to address the striking workers at 09h00 that morning, Mathunjwa, remained trapped and frustrated at the Lonmin offices neat the JOC. He had arrived there at 08h20 that morning, accompanied by his two comrades, to fulfill an undertaking he’d made the previous day to address the workers at 09h00.

Lonmin had asked the union leaders, Mathunjwa and Zokwana, to persuade the workers to disarm and leave the koppie to create an atmosphere where the employer could address the concerns without the fear of violence. But that morning, it seemed a decision had somehow already been taken to proceed with stage three of the police’s plan and to shun Mathunjwa and not to fulfill the undertakings made the previous day.

Mathunjwa alleges that Lonmin official, Mr Kwadi, accompanied by three people, had told him that morning that the company was that management could not commit to engaging with the workers if they returned to work.

‘This was a clear departure of the commitment given the previous day. It appeared that management had changed its mind overnight. I said to Mr Kwadi that Lonmin had betrayed us.

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September 15 2019