Community activists, lawyers representing the families of Marikana workers and academics who gathered at the University of Johannesburg on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the Marikana massacre, pledged to deepen mobilisation and unity against the strong arm of the state and big business. Even a simple apology for the brutal murders from the sitting president, who at the time in 2012 was a non-executive director of Lonmin, has been hard to come by, they say. After viewing the documentary of the Marikana struggle, Miners Shot Down, which evokes painful emotions, as well as an exhibition of photos depicting the struggle of Marikana, they vowed to take the baton forward to ensure the spirit of their fallen heroes does not vanish in vain.
“Those shot miners left us a gift of legacy, a very valuable and rich legacy. Soon after Marikana we saw Rhodes Must Fall, Fees Must Fall, and every time marginalised communities and homeless people take up land issues, they will name their informal settlements after Marikana. Inspired by the spirit of Marikana, the masses of South Africa should learn to draw the class line where on one side stand the poor, workers, oppressed and the exploited, and on the other side, the rich, the exploiter and the oppressor.
“They must unite against their class enemy, which are the people standing between them and the secured comfortable life. On that mountain where miners gave their lives, their spirit was born and gave us hope that a better life is possible,” says professor Trevor Ngwane, director of the Centre for Sociological Research and Practice at the University of Johannesburg. To achieve this, he says, workers will have to stand up in unity and remove the system of government which only serves the interest of the rich and replace it with a workers’ parliament which serves the needs of the workers and all the people.
“We will never stop talking; advocacy must continue. We can’t afford to be silent,” says Gabisile Khanyile from Marikana Wonderkop and a member of Sinethemba Women, which provides psycho-social support to the Marikana families. She is also worried about the abandoned shafts which have not been rehabilitated and pose a death trap for the community. Personally, she says, the anniversary reminds her of a childhood friend who was killed during the strike; he was a bread winner and left a small child and his girlfriend.
Sibanye-Stillwater has continued to make super profits and paid its CEO R14,4 million in 2021.
Sibanye-Stillwater takes over
In 2019, Lonmin was purchased by Sibanye-Stillwater for R4,1 billion. Sibanye-Stillwater annual reports reveal that the company made about R33,8 billion in 2021. The company’s chief executive officer earned a whopping R14,4 million in 2020 while the rock-drillers who were at the centre of the strike in August 2012 with a wage demand of R12,500, are currently earning R13,000. Elitsha reported how residents in Marikana still live in squalid conditions that are unchanged since 2012.
Sibanye-Stillwater has signalled its intent to build a memorial to the victims of the massacre. Kate Alexander, professor of sociology at the University of Johannesburg, says that if it wants to build a memorial, it must be done with respect to the miners’ experience and their surviving loved ones, not be some corporate theme park displaying some kind of a charity.
“Workers also want a dignified life and want their rural places back home where they come from to be improved rather than continuing working under worse conditions for Sibanye-Stillwater and yet they make big profit for these companies,” she says.
Jim Nichol, who represented the families and workers at the Farlam Commission, says although it will take time for victims to get justice, in the end it will certainly come. He provided examples of atrocities committed to people in the United Kingdom and Northern Island where people did not relent but stood together to fight for justice. “I believe as long people keep on fighting and are backed by grassroots support, no matter after how long they’ll eventually triumph. There is enough evidence to show police were wrong and the materials such as Miners Shot Down are very important to us,“ he says.
A night vigil was held outside the National Prosecuting Authority offices in Johannesburg. Photo by Ramatamo Sehoai
Although there has been some compensation paid so far to the widows and the arrested miners, Nomzamo Zondo, the executive director of the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (SERI), which is representing 37 families, says this is not enough. She says they are weighing up the option of litigating beyond the borders of South Africa to seek international intervention. “There are international obligations; if we are forced to go out of the South African legal system, we can go out to try and see what’s outside. Families have been saying from the beginning, nothing can stop us. We have nothing. What more can we lose?”
She says they want the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to provide legal resources for the victims because currently the respondents have more legal resources than the victims. One of their demands to the government is also for the 16th of August to be declared a national holiday like other significant days in South African history are remembered.
Coming all the way from Soweto to give solidarity to the plight of Marikana, Bongani Xezwi, deputy coordinator of the community working group of the C19 People’s Coalition, urged everyone to organise themselves to fight for a better life for all.
The gathering ended with a night vigil outside the NPA offices in the Johannesburg CBD.