Justice and compensation for Marikana victims remain elusive, eight years down the line

Lonmin mine workers march during a protest in 2012 where they asked for better working conditions. The protest ended on August 16 after 34 miners were gunned down by police.
Lonmin mine workers march during a protest in 2012 where they asked for better working conditions. The protest ended on August 16 after 34 miners were gunned down by police.
Columnist Wayne Malinga
Columnist Wayne Malinga

The day of commemoration and remembrance for victims of the Marikana massacre has come and gone, with speeches and chants still maintaining the same rhetoric, “justice for the Marikana victims”.

For eight years, widows and family members of the slain and injured mineworkers in this tragic, gruesome and horrifying massacre of their loved ones have been waiting in pain, hurt and anger as justice has not taken precedence to book those who were behind this unfortunate event.

One tends to wonder whether this terrifying episode in South Africa's democratic dispensation is a question of justice delayed or justice denied.

It seems like yesterday that South Africa was gripped in shock at the unexpected loss of these miners. Who would have thought they would die in such an undignified and horrifying manner without remorse from the perpetrators of this violent atrocity?

Mineworkers and their families at a hearing on the release of the Marikana report on June 8 2015 at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.
Mineworkers and their families at a hearing on the release of the Marikana report on June 8 2015 at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

On that day, South Africans questioned what  had happened to the right to life, ubuntu and the right to freedom as enshrined in the constitution. Eight years down the line, the wounds have not yet healed for the families of the slain and injured mineworkers. No-one ever thought the rights of ordinary mineworkers to protest and demonstrate for better wages, working and living conditions would be infringed, to the point of death.

As we continue venerating and honouring the victims of this massacre, we need to ask ourselves several tough questions on whether there have been any material changes for the miners or has the status quo remained the same? Was the struggle for better wages, working and living conditions in vain or has it yielded benefits? Have families of the victims been able to get justice or has the system simply shown them the door of injustice?

Police fire on mineworkers in Marikana in the North West on August 16 2012. The massacre left 34 men dead.
Police fire on mineworkers in Marikana in the North West on August 16 2012. The massacre left 34 men dead.

In the words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, ‘In keeping silent about evil, in burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousand fold in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations’.

As we reflect on this continued injustice, such words provoke our thinking and allow us to zoom in on this incident from a different perspective.

The unambiguous reality is that the Marikana massacre has simply been brushed under the carpet and deeply buried in the past with no form of punishment for the perpetrators to appease those who were wronged. Consequently, when is justice going to happen and is it ever going to prevail for these victims and their families?

The American civil rights activist, Martin Luther King Jr, said that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. In essence, what kind of society will SA be when others are ailing in agony and sorrow over inhumane injustices committed on their loved ones, families, friends and colleagues.

For the first time since its attainment of democracy, SA witnessed the use of lethal force by police on civilians. On that fateful day 34 Lonmin platinum mineworkers who were clamouring for a minimum wage of R12,500 a month, coupled with calls for better working and living conditions were gunned down by the police. This bloodbath also left 78 other workers with serious injuries.

Police used live ammunition on defenceless mineworkers. In such a scenario, several conjectures and questions arise on what happened to the use and adoption of dialogue as a peaceful conflict resolution strategy?

Is there more to this incident than we postulate? Why the use of such violence on innocent mineworkers who seemed to want nothing more than a discussion platform to have their grievances heard? Why were mineworkers in this particular incident denied their rights to protest?

These thought provoking questions provide a key in understanding the reasons behind this incident that eventually put a dark mark on the mining industry in SA as a whole.

It is the norm that time and again the mining industry witnesses strikes from workers with the support of their unions such as the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Unit (Amcu).

Mineworkers engage in this industrial action to show their unhappiness with the mining sector over a myriad of issues such as low wages, poor working and living conditions, ill-health and safety.

One tends to wonder what role the unions played in the Marikana debacle. Were the interests of the workers put at the forefront by these unions during the strike? If not, why did the workers take matters into their own hands and seek justice for themselves?

Even though the Marikana Commission of Inquiry was set up in 2014 to investigate the incident little if anything has been done to make sure there is justice for the mineworkers and their families.

The report largely exonerated political figures who were implicated in this massacre, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, former Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, former Police Commissioner Ria Phiyega and former Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu.

One could say, politics and its dirty antics have prevailed at the expense of the lives of innocent mineworkers.

The justice system seems to be failing the victims of the massacre and their families. The families of the injured and slain mineworkers are still seeking answers, reparations and compensation with little or no success.

On Sunday, during the eighth commemoration of the massacre it was revealed that some widows have decided to give Ramaphosa an ultimatum till the end of the month to compensate them and apologise over this tragic incident.

To date, no form of apology has been rendered to the families by the perpetrators.

Most of the slain mineworkers hailed from the poor rural Eastern Cape and the aftermath of this incident has left their families languishing in deep poverty as they have lost their breadwinners.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (Seri), which  represents the families of the Marikana victims, has time and again alluded to the fact that compensation for the families of the victims is far from over. Even though the government promised to offer these families a R100m settlement, there are still questions whether this promise will ever be fulfilled. All pointers indicate that the matter will drag on in the courts while the victims and their families wallow in poverty.

Apart from the compensation package made by government, Lonmin which has since been bought by Sibanye Stillwater, also made promises to improve the lives and living conditions of its workers.

However, questions can be still asked on whether that promise has been turned into reality or was it simply rhetoric. Therefore, it is imperative to ask if the grievances the workers raised during the 2012 protest have been addressed.

Are the workers currently earning a living wage? Has safety been improved? Answers to these questions lie with the company; whether it has the interest of its workers at heart or what matters to them are only profits.

Recent developments have seen the company plunging itself in controversy after erecting a wall of remembrance for the slain mineworkers without consulting the widows of the victims. Moreover, questions have been raised on why it was erected several kilometres away from the koppie where the massacre occurred.

The question of justice for mineworkers and their families extends beyond the Marikana massacre. Most notably, the debacle on silicosis has raised questions on the health of mineworkers in South Africa.

This culminated in a class-action suit in 2012 for mine owners to compensate workers who had contracted silicosis or TB during their course of work.

Mineworkers and their families bear the biggest brunt of the fallout of the mining industry as evidenced in the Marikana incident. The state of affairs in the sector has remained the same with mineworkers facing  challenges related to safety, health, wages, living and working conditions while companies continue to make profits obtained through exploited labour.

As we continue seeking justice for the victims of the Marikana massacre, we need to start asking ourselves the question how the sector can be reformed to better the lives of its workers.

For the past eight years, this incident is a reminder of how the unions, government, mining companies, the justice system, civil society and police have all failed to find a lasting solution to this horrifying act that infringed on the rights of workers to protest.

Dr Wayne Malinga is an independent researcher, consultant and alumnus of the University of Fort Hare. He writes in his own personal capacity.


Would you like to comment on this article?
Register (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.