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Marikana massacre: Development in mining town remains elusive 10 years on

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Graphic: Timothy Alexander / African News Agency (ANA)

By Bishop Johannes Seoka

‘Lest we forget the things that our eyes have seen and our ears have heard, and lest they depart from our hearts all the days of our life. We must, as a matter of telling the truth to power, make them known to our children and our children’s children.“ (My interpretation and emphasis of Deuteronomy 4.7-9.)

It cannot be that justice is not served to the families of the massacred husbands and fathers on that fatal day on August 16, 2012, at Ikaneng-Marikana’s Lonmin precinct. Could it be that we are afraid to tell the truth to power? Altogether 44 lives were wasted by poorly trained police for the benefit of the captains of monopoly capital.

This year marks a decade of untold consequences of police brutality on peaceful protesting miners below the koppie of Nkaneng-Marikana. If truth be told, it was an unprecedented development, ignited by years of indescribable frustration and exploitation resulting from the migratory labour system rooted in the apartheid policies.

Their “sinful mistake” was asking for what they believed they deserved for their labour. All that the rock-drillers (miners) wanted and appealed for to their employer, Lonmin, was a living wage. Instead, they got live ammunition, rewarding them with death and graves, not money and/or decent living and working conditions.

The recent developments in our country, ranging from the Zuma-Gupta saga to state-owned building infernos, are a reminder of what we wish to forget despite the reality of history repeating itself. A decade to the year when we think of and about the Marikana massacre, we cannot help but wish to bury our heads in the sand.

Ten years later, the miners died for profits in a degrading capitalist system, compelling us to ask critical questions about our state of constitutional democracy. It’s presumptuous to think we have moved from the exploitative and oppressive totalitarian system to a free, democratic South Africa. “Things have only changed for the worse”, communities around Marikana told me on my recent visit there.

The hopes of 1994 have been the nightmare of the most vulnerable citizens, as the poorest of the poor have since become poorer, and a handful of well-connected individuals have become overnight billionaires.

Even Cyril Ramaphosa, who was a non-executive director at the time of the massacre, now the president of the Republic, is labelled as the agent of the white monopoly capital(ist) who governs the country by the dictates of the richest families who own the very mines and corporations that continue to underpay those who are in their employment, in the country.

Looking at those who were working for Lonmin as executives, one is left wondering what it was that qualified them to live better off than the people digging the platinum group of metals. For instance, it is no secret that the same black executives who were captains of Lonmin during the protest and subsequent massacre were rewarded with hefty bonuses and ran to the bank smiling and unperturbed by the state of the 34 plus 10 widows and their families.

A good example is that of Ben Magara, who was brought in to fix the problem as one who knows black people with mining experience, but instead made the situation worse with a strike which lasted almost five months. Notwithstanding, he got a handshake of an R11 million bonus in shares while the company was engaged in the rights issue to raise money for sustaining its operations. As we commemorate the decade of the massacre, the miners are limping to their homes with grief and empty hands.

Some of them, as is the case with Mr Mzoxolo Magidiwane, are yet to receive a cent for their arrest and injury. To date, the surviving victims, widows and orphans of the Marikana massacre have nothing to show in the direction of empathy for human existence. Even as there is talk of a platinum group of metals prize increase, the miners’ wages remain but a dream and a recurring nightmare.

Not much is said about their families except for those wives and relatives of the deceased who were employed at the Lonmin platinum mine as a gesture of compensation. Notwithstanding, credit must be given to one young man who graduated with a PhD in agriculture last year.

Nonetheless, we must ask: Where are the rest of the children?

The culprits (police) who perpetrated the crime that claimed the lives of innocent mine workers are enjoying the rewards of the “job well done” (sic) and so are the directors, including the sitting president, who has yet to publicly atone for the callous sins of omission and commission. And show remorse for the role he played in the slaughter of 34 of 44 innocent miners who were sacrificed for profit at the koppie of Marikana.

Lonmin sold the company to Sibanye-Stillwater, who, before buying the mine, promised to take responsibility for some of the consequences of the massacre. Since then, the company has been talking about providing houses for widows and introducing community development projects in the form of vegetable gardens.

Sibanye-Stillwater has failed to fulfil its promises to the people of Marikana. People in the area refer to the company as a bad neighbour hiding behind the so-called good neighbour agreement. Communities don’t have a say in what the company does in their areas, despite their call that nothing must be done without them.

Shamefully, some church leaders have been hypnotised by the shameless charade. Is this what the deceased miners paid for with their lives? Lest we forget, it cannot be that these innocent workers’ lives were sacrificed to add value to the company’s products while their families were gravely rewarded with poverty. Even as one writes these reflections, one cannot help but think that there are too many unanswered questions that the country’s democracy is yet to answer.

As in all places with rich natural resources, the Bapo Ba Mogale region and the mine-sending areas of the Eastern Cape remain impoverished. The promises made by mining houses, like Lonmin, have not kept their promises even when the PGM’s prices remain steady without showing a loss in the company.

On our recent visit to Lonmin Marikana mines, we witnessed people living in extreme poverty, in conditions worse than those we saw in 2012. There is nothing strikingly new that tells the story of the transformed Lonmin community. As in most undeveloped countries, such as Zambia, Congo and Angola, with their gold, diamonds, platinum, oil, copper and bauxite, just to mention but a few – though on a rich natural resources – its citizens are dying of hunger and are unemployed.

Around the platinum mines of Marikana, the site of the massacre has become a smear of death. Not even the memorial site we proposed as a symbol of healing and reconciliation, with the names of all the victims, has been erected. Yet, the company’s CEO Neal Froneman talks about the Marikana renewal process being inclusive of all stakeholders.

The memorial wall erected is a shame on the deceased and their families, and the food gardens they have promoted leave much to be desired. The apartment buildings meant to replace single-sex hostels are not occupied by the miners but by management, and some are cracking, and unemployment is much higher than it was in 2012. The company’s leaderships has much talk but little action to show remorse.

Some church leaders who think only of their benefit are targeted and used to preach the Sibanye-Stillwater prosperity gospel without shame.

My denomination is not exempt from this hypocrisy.

The truth is that it is business as usual at Sibanye-Stillwater. The livelihood of the Bapo Ba Mogale is defined by poverty and unemployment. Given the situation in Marikana, one cannot help but ask questions which must be answered by democratic South Africa. For instance, what happened to the money, $150 million (R2.45 billion) given to Lonmin by IFC to assist the company with its safety issues and promote sustainable economic development around the areas of Lonmin mining?

According to Tom Burgis in his book “The looting Machine”, Lonmin bosses, on receiving the funds, said to the World Bank’s board: “If successful, the partnership ‘will set a new standard for the mining industry’s relationship with the country and the community in South Africa and will forge a sustainable and mutually beneficial partnership with the community surrounding the operations.”

Thinking about the historical colonial exploitation of the African resources, one cannot help but see Sibanye-Stillwater as the Lonmin extension of the British agenda to steal Africa’s precious minerals. If the money invested at Lonmin had been responsibly used and accounted for, the massacre would not have happened.

Lest we forget, the reasons which contributed to the miners’ strike were slave wages, appalling working and squalid living conditions, and youth unemployment.

The scenario that led to the massacre reminds us that investments in Africa are meant to smash and grab and steal the resources that ought to benefit the land owners. Historically, the government has helped protect the capital oppressors degrade and exploit local people and pillage their God-given natural mineral resources. It is the same policies that enabled the police to shoot and kill 34 striking peaceful protesting miners and contributed to an extra 10 who died in the conflict. Surely the IFC did not pay for destruction and the murder of the miners but for development that was to benefit communities around Lonmin mines, not a few owners of means of production.

It is not a bad idea to suggest that now is an opportune moment to demand reparation and the return of all our minerals, be it gold, diamonds, or all PGMs, back to where they belong. This is possible when we follow the example of Germany, which intends to return its Benin bronzes to Nigeria. Also, Belgium has decided that its Democratic Republic of Congo artworks stolen during the colonial rule/era should be returned to their country of origin.

It would be a good gesture for Lonmin to also return the PGMs and gold that are estimated to be worth R75 billion deposited in the Bank of England, stolen during the colonial rule in South Africa.

The resources can be used for the greater good to benefit the people from whom they were repossessed. If Africans were not exploited and oppressed through the head tax and migratory labour system, they would not have left their homelands only to be killed at Lonmin mines. There is no doubt that if these matters are not dealt with, history is likely to repeat itself.

Gaps are too wide in the process of transformation and development in the Marikana area a decade since the callous act that resulted in an unprecedented massacre of innocent poor miners of Lonmin mines.

All said and done, President Ramaphosa, who has been named by the high court as having a case to answer, must publicly apologise, face prosecution, and step aside until the Marikana matter has been finalised.

Seoka is the former bishop of the Anglican Church in the Diocese of Pretoria in the Anglican Church of South Africa for 18 years and is also the chairperson of the Bench Marks Foundation.

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.

The views expressed are not those of the African News Agency (ANA) or Independent Media.