Marikana miners remembered!


An estimated 10,000 people gathered at the foot of a dusty outcrop where on August 16, 2012, police unleashed a 284-bullet barrage that plunged South Africa into crisis and shocked the world.

The crowd, included workers wearing green trade union t-shirts and wielding sticks, chanted and sang, in scenes reminiscent of the day the young “Rainbow Nation” lost its innocence.

But the ruling African National Congress boycotted the event, which it said was being politicised after organisers invited a militant mining union and opposition leaders to speak.

With many ANC members serving on the boards of mining firms and the government firmly defending police tactics, members of the party may not have been welcome.

President Jacob Zuma, who launched a state inquiry into the deaths but has avoided becoming publically entangled in the crisis, was in Malawi, ahead of a regional summit.

No-one has yet been held responsible for the 34 deaths, and with fury still raw, police in riot vans kept their distance as helicopters circled overhead.

“We want to know the truth. Who sent the police to come and kill us?” said 24-year-old Mzoxolo Magidwana who was shot eight times.

The chief executive of Lonmin, which runs the platinum mine, was among those addressing the emotional but calm crowd.

“We will never replace your loved ones, and I say we are truly sorry for that,” said CEO Ben Magara.

“It should not have taken so many lives for us… as a nation to learn that this should not have happened and this should never happen again.”

He said the London-listed firm would pay for the schooling of dead mineworkers’ children.

The violence is seen by many as the worst since apartheid ended in 1994.

In the run-up to the killings at least 10 other people — including two police officers — died amid a highly charged work stoppage over wages at the London-listed mining firm.

The event culminated in a moment of silence round the same time a year ago police opened fire at the foot of a hill.

“We’ve come here to take a stand, to say never again will peaceful actions be countered with violence,” bishop Jo Seoka told the crowd.

On the eve of the commemorations the national police commissioner called for calm.

“We wish to appeal to everyone who will be in attendance to conduct themselves appropriately,” said Riah Phiyega, who as commanding officer gave evidence before the inquest.

Many of those present said the low wages and poor living standards that sparked the upwelling of anger a year ago remain present.

“These people died for nothing,” said Gabriel Shakhane, 42, a migrant miner from Lesotho.

The inquest has yet to conclude, mired by delays and bogged down by disputes about the lack of state funding for the victims’ legal fees.

A court ruling on the fees dispute was delayed Friday.

“We still haven’t got the facts of what happened at Marikana, the commission of inquiry hasn’t wrapped up its work – we are not close to knowing who is legally responsible for the deaths of 34 miners,” said political commentator Eusebius McKaiser.

Amnesty International’s Noel Kututwa warned accountability was needed.

“The long-term consequences for the respect and protection of human rights in South Africa will be severe should the South African authorities fail,” he said.

The event is being organised by a group linked to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), which has fought a sometimes bloody battle for power with the ANC-allied National Union of Mineworkers (NUM).

Several assassinations have taken place over the last year, with leaders from both sides dying amid the battle for supremacy.

AMCU’s leader Joseph Mathunjwa, who had invited NUM’s leaders to attend, said the event was “not about politicking”.

He had earlier extended an invitation to NUM’s leaders “to be part” of the events.

But at the 11th hour, NUM announced that it will stay away because the event has been “hijacked.”

The move shredded hopes that the two unions could use the event to move beyond deadly violence between its members.

Controversial populist politician Julius Malema, former ANC youth league leader who has recently launched his own party, was expected to be among the speakers.

His party is pushing for the nationalisation of mines, a cornerstone of Africa’s largest economy.

“Even as we are remembering victims we are quite frankly messing with their memories by playing politics with the commemoration, politicising the commemoration itself,” said McKaiser.

“It means we haven’t learnt lessons.”


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