On 25 June year, President Jacob Zuma released the report of the Farlam Commission, which was appointed by the government to investigate the killings of 44 people at the Lonmin mine in Marikana in August 2012. This includes the massacre of mineworkers on 16 August that year, when the police opened fire on the striking workers, killing 34 and injuring 78 more.
The commission's report has subsequently been roundly condemned by large sections of society. Rightly so! In the final analysis, the report is a complete whitewash. It exonerates the politicians and the capitalists and place the blame squarely on police officials.
The facts of the case are well known and have not been contradicted by the commission: On 10 August 2012 rock drillers went on a wildcat strike at Lonmin’s Marikana mine after their union’s leaders failed to take up their grievances with the bosses. On 11 August, National Union of Mineworkers branch officials opened fire on striking workers who were marching on their offices to complain about the unresponsiveness of their union. The workers explained that two of their comrades were killed. This incident completely broke off all relations between the strikers and the NUM. The workers then demanded to speak to management directly and elected a strike committee for this purpose. Thousands of workers congregated en masse on a rocky outcrop outside the mine’s premises because they wanted to speak to the bosses on neutral ground. Lonmin refused and insisted that it will only deal with the union officials, with whom they had very cosy relations. Between 12 and 14 August another eight people, including security guards and police, were killed around the Marikana area. The circumstances of these deaths are very murky, and the Farlam commission could not shed anymore light on it.
But some of the events of 16 August were caught live on television cameras. On the afternoon of this day, while the workers were preparing to leave the site and return home for the day, elite police units, including the notorious Tactical Response Team (TRT) moved in to violently break the strike. The entire area was cordoned off with razor wire and the strikers were herded in a particular direction. Then the police opened fire with birdshot and teargas at the rear; the workers started to panic, and fled through the only gap which were opened to them. But this was a deathtrap. They ran straight into the TRT who opened fire on them. Seventeen workers were killed here at what later became known as “scene one.” But the killings did not stop here. The rest of the workers were pursued 500 meters away. What happened at “scene two” was not captured on television, but forensic investigations and testimonies from survivors revealed that another seventeen workers were killed—the majority were shot in the back as they were running away from police. Few bullet casings were found at the scene, which suggests that the workers did not die in a hail of bullets. Rather, all evidence suggests that the workers were executed. Others were crushed by police vehicles.
After retired judge Ian Farlam handed in the report at the end of March, another battle had to be waged against President Zuma in order to get the report released. This included going to court. By the time the 646-page report was finally released, it was done in the most callous way. Out of the blue, the presidency released a statement at 2 p.m. on 25 June that the report would be released on the same evening at 7 p.m. This was in spite of the requests by the families of the 34 workers to give 48 hours’ notice before releasing the report. The lawyers of the families said that their clients only heard about the announcement late in the afternoon when they returned from work, and were “ambushed” by the announcement. This little episode is just an indication of the disdain, callousness, and disgraceful nature in which the government has been dealing with the events subsequent to the massacre. The widows and families of the deceased have repeatedly complained, since the events of 2012 that the treated they received by the government was that of outcasts and “criminals”.
Although the Farlam Commission revealed some minor new findings against the national police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, and the police commissioner of the North West province, Zukiswa Mbombo, it completely absolved the politicians and the Lonmin executives. The commission's recommendations were merely that inquiries should be made to establish whether either police official is fit for their job—a completely meaningless gesture,as Mbombo has since retired and Phiyega is already a liability which the government would not mind getting rid of. According to the report, the main causes of the massacre were merely technically wrong policing decisions. It states that the attempt to break the strike should have been taken in the morning, when there were fewer workers present, and not in the afternoon when the hill was filled with thousands of workers. Allegedly, this would have made it easier to arrest or disperse them. The judge said that the cause of the massacre was “ill planned and poorly commanded operations.” In short, it cleared the massacre of any the political reasons which led to the massacre. While indirectly putting the blame on the workers by implying that a smaller number of workers would not have “forced” the police to massacre them.
All the evidence which was before the commission points to the fact that the massacre was premeditated murder. Forensic and eyewitness reports before the commission clearly shows that the workers at “scene two” were hunted down and and executed. Eleven of the seventeen workers were shot in the back as they fled from the police. Four were shot in the head and neck. Others were shot while they were surrendering. Nkosikhona Mjuba, who survived “scene two,” said, “The police officers started shooting the mineworkers with long and short firearms. Some workers put their hands in the air to show they were not fighting the police, but they were shot.”
Most were shot while they were hiding in the undergrowth, forensic investigators found. At “scene one,” they were shot while they were leaving the site through a very small passage. Prior to the massacre, the police ordered four mortuary vehicles, with the capacity to carry 32 bodies, to the scene—another indication of premeditation. It indicated that they expected a bloodbath. Mbombo was also captured on camera saying that 16 August was “D-Day.”
But the decision to end the strike in such a violent way was an overt political decision. The key figure in this process was Cyril Ramaphosa, the country’s current deputy president. At the time, Ramaphosa, a bourgeois politician, was a non-executive director at Lonmin. The commission was presented with clear evidence that Ramaphosa was a central link between Lonmin and the state. The very day before the massacre, evidence was presented which showed email correspondence between Ramaphosa and Lonmin’s chief commercial officer, Albert Jamieson. In one of the emails, 24 hours before the massacre, Ramaphosa described the strike in the following way:
“The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such. There needs to be concomitant action to address the situation.”
The emails vividly shows how the Lonmin directors (through Ramaphosa) were frantically lobbying the state against the strikers. Ramaphosa spoke to the police minister at the time, Nathi Mthethwa, and warned him to come down hard on the striking workers. He also influenced the mineral resources minister, Susan Shabangu. In a reply to an email from a Lonmin executive, Ramaphosa wrote, “You are absolutely correct in insisting that that the minister and all government officials need to understand that we are dealing with a criminal act. I have said as much to the minister of safety and security.”
This immense pressure to act against the workers was eventually relayed to the police officials. Chapter 9 C (6) of the commission’s report actually confirms this:
“Lieutenant General Mbombo also mentioned that when she spoke to the Minister of Police, Mr Mthethwa, he had said that Mr Cyril Ramaphosa was calling him and pressurising him. In this regard she said that the National Commissioner had asked her the previous evening who the shareholders were and that she had replied that she did not know but that the Minister had mentioned Mr Ramaphosa, whereupon the National Commissioner had said that she “got it.” (page 163).
On page 167 of the report, the commission found that the North West police commissioner took into account political considerations when she took the decision to end the strike on 16 August. The Commission accepts the following facts about General Mbombo as presented by the evidence leaders:
“We submit that exhibit JJJ192bis clearly shows that Lt Gen Mbombo took into account irrelevant political considerations in approaching the situation at Marikana:
“543.1 She did not want mining companies to be seen to be supporting AMCU;
"She did not want mining companies to undermine NUM;
“543.3 She was responding to what she perceived as pressure from Mr Cyril Ramaphosa whom she considered to be politically influential;
“543.4 She wanted to end the violence before Mr Julius Malema arrived in Marikana and was given credit for defusing the situation.”
But despite the commission accepting that the police commissioner acted on political considerations, astonishingly it found that they were “irrelevant” and “perceived”! It found that Ramaphosa “was not the cause of the massacre.” But these “political considerations,” which Mbombo felt and on which upon she acted, were not “irrelevant,” as the evidence leader states. They were very real. The Lonmin bosses and Ramaphosa were putting huge pressure on the politicians. In turn, the politicians were putting pressure on the police to act “in a pointed way,” as Ramaphosa puts it in one of the emails. It graphically shows the interplay between the state and the capitalists in bourgeois society. In the final analysis, when its interests are threatened, the bourgeois will use its thousands of connections to the state against the working class. If it means killing workers, so be it!
To fight for justice, fight for socialism!
After the release of the report on Friday, 3 June, the Economic Freedom Fighters went to the Marikana police station to lay criminal charges against Cyril Ramaphosa. This includes the charge of conspiracy to commit murder. Party leader Julius Malema correctly said, “I hold the strong view that Cyril must be prosecuted and we will ensure that he is brought to book because he was at the centre of the massacre of our people.”
What this move will do is keep the spotlight fixed on the situation. It will also illustrate to the masses the shortcomings of the capitalist system. At the end of the day, justice cannot be expected in a profoundly unjust and class divided society.
We must point out that a purely police investigation is highly unlikely to bring Ramaphosa, Mthethwa, or the Lonmin bosses to account. What is required is to fight for the overthrow of the entire capitalist system. Many people find what happened to be incomprehensible. How could this have happened in the post-Apartheid society? The answer to this question lies in the economic system. Upon coming into government, the pro-capitalist leaders of the liberation movement managed to stabilize the situation within the framework of bourgeois democracy. This meant that the economic power remained in the hands of the capitalist class. But for the majority of the working class, the poor, and the youth, nothing fundamental has changed. This is the reason for the explosion of strikes and protests over the last period.
The Marikana massacre and the strikes which followed it were a watershed moment. It graphically brought all the contradictions inherent in South Africa to the surface in the most violent and explosive way. It shook the post-Apartheid society to its core. It clearly showed that under capitalism there is no solution to the problems facing the workers, the poor, and the youth.