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‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word to say’ for SA President Cyril Ramaphosa

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Picture: Ayanda Ndamane /African News Agency (ANA) – Slowly the country is turning into a no-go zone for the president as he is increasingly booed by those who cannot be silenced by the autocratic hiss of ANC organisational discipline, says the writer.

By Kim Heller

“Out damned spot”. The hauntingly infamous words of Lady Macbeth in William Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, come to mind as I reflect on the 10th Anniversary of the Marikana Massacre. In this Shakespearian tragedy, Lady Macbeth is implicated in the death of King Duncan of Scotland, along with her husband, Macbeth, was driven by ambitions for the crown.

Looking down at his bloodstained hands, with remorse and guilt, after he has stabbed Duncan in the back, Macbeth pronounces them as “a sorry sight”. With an air of irritation, Lady Macbeth summarily dismisses Macbeth’s emotional turmoil, and tells him to  “wash this filthy witness from your hand”.  But just a few months later, Lady Macbeth finds herself overwhelmed by all-consuming anguish for her part in the murder.

Riddled with guilt, and unable to sleep, she begins to suffer from tortuous nightmares. In a sleepwalk confessional, Lady Macbeth cries out, “Here’s yet a spot,” as she rubbed her hands together obsessively, “all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand”.

Back to real life and the sorry sight of Marikana, wherein in 2012, 34 striking miners were shot down. The Small Koppie will forever be a bloodstain that no spin can ever quite whitewash out of history. Lonmin may have changed their name to Sibanye-Stillwater, but no name change, or clever re-branding exercise can erase the damned spot of the Marikana massacre.

One wonders whether the ANC is remorseful, at all, that this tragedy unfolded under its watch or if Cyril Ramaphosa’s sleep is disturbed by a wretch of guilt, for his part in this brutal act.

Words hurt and indeed Ramaphosa’s words caused massive damage. In a chain of email correspondence in the days leading up to the Marikana massacre, following the killing of 10 policemen, Ramaphosa, non-executive director at Lonmin’s platinum mines at the time, described the miner’s protest as “dastardly criminal” and called for “concomitant action”.

Addressing Parliament in May 2017, Ramaphosa conveyed a dash of regret as he told MPs, “I used inappropriate and unfortunate language, as expressed in the e-mails”. A poor apology, for a man whose words triggered such sorrow for the people of Marikana.

“The first 17 people were killed in less than 12 seconds then another 17 were killed in less than 11 minutes”, Nomzamo Zondo, executive director of the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri)  and the lawyer representing 36 of the families, said in an interview in June this year with Mail & Guardian journalists Bongeka Gumede and Sonri Naidoo.

“In the 10 years since the massacre, there is very little to show in terms of justice. But in those 12 minutes lives were destroyed and that remains constant for the families till today,”  Zondo continued. “The massacre had a ripple effect — many relatives lost their unborn babies and parents of the deceased died after hearing about the tragedy.”

A few weeks back, the South Gauteng High Court found Ramaphosa and Sibanye-Stillwater (previously Lonmin) complicit in the events leading up to the killing of the miners.

Sometimes words hurt. Sometimes silence hurts too. Ten years have passed and still Ramaphosa has yet to apologise. To coin the words of songwriter and singer Elton John ‘Sorry seems to be the hardest word to say’.

The blood spill of Marikana can never be removed but an apology from government and those involved may have helped to ease the pain. But in the fashion of the ANC in government, accountability is a long-discarded blanket.

Amcu has declared Marikana a no-go zone for Ramaphosa until he apologises to the families who lost loved ones during the massacre. Ramaphosa has yet to set foot in Marikana and he is unlikely to do so.

Slowly the country is turning into a no-go zone for Ramaphosa as he is increasingly booed by those who cannot be silenced by the autocratic hiss of ANC organisational discipline. Even if he was summoned to go to Marikana, he would almost certainly decline. For the president seems far more comfortable extending a palm of goodwill to white South Africans than reaching out a hand of compassion to black South Africans.

From the start, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) leader Julius Malema called on Ramaphosa to take responsibility for the deaths, to no avail. And in a Parliamentary question and answer session, in 2014, Malema dug the knife in deep as he asked Ramaphosa, the then deputy president,  “Why is the deputy president not accepting that you are responsible for the death of 34 mineworkers who died, that you killed them because you were driven by profit and the interest to defend your shares as an economic security guard in the economy of South Africa, and stop this thing that we must all take responsibility. We can’t take responsibility for the thing we don’t know. You are the one who wrote emails and instigated the killing of 34 people. And sitting there, your hands have got the blood of innocent people who died in Marikana, and I think it is important for you to accept that you are responsible for the deaths of 34 people.”

Jacob Zuma was president of South Africa at the time of the Marikana massacre. He was in Mozambique when the tragedy struck, but on his return, he went to Marikana to address mineworkers. Zuma said that no one should die over a wage dispute. But 34 miners did, in their quest for a living wage. Because on that crucial day, the ANC sided with white capital over black workers.

In a media interview in December 2012, four months after the tragedy, Zuma said, “The conditions of workers should change. They can’t continue to be what they were many decades ago. I would imagine Marikana in a democratic South Africa has been a wake-up call to say: let us fix the conditions of the workers.” Zuma said, “I believe this is a moment to transform.”

But today ten years later, the nightmare continues as conditions remain dire for mineworkers and their families, not only at Marikana but across the mining industry, as the ANC government and capital continue to place profits before people.

“The life of a black man is cheap in South Africa,” so said the president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), Joseph Mathunjwa in 2012, as the tragedy of Marikana unfolded.

The great poet, Don Mattera, wrote of the plight of mineworkers, “Though police guns rattle on mine-dunes in the name of protection and order, I have discovered, yes, that an ounce of gold exceeds the value of a Black man’s life.”

Today, ten years after the Marikana massacre, there is no justice. Not for the families of 34 mineworkers gunned down, or for the families of the policemen who lost their lives defending the purse of white monopoly capital during the massacre.

Today we mourn for the ten-year-old child who never looked upon the face of a father, for the widows who will never again feel the comfort of a husband’s embrace, for brothers and sisters so longed for but never born, and for the orphans of Marikana whose, futures sway like a candle in the wind. We mourn too for the workers of today who still battle for a living wage.

Ten years ago, in 2012 Ramaphosa turned his back on workers. Two years later, in 2014, he was deputy president of the ANC and South Africa and six years later, in 2018, he was to lead the ANC and the country. Ramaphosa is seeking a second term. We should look down on our own hands, in horror and regret and ask why do we allow this?

Back to Macbeth and the bloodied hand. “Out, damned spot; out, I say. One, two,— why, then ’tis time to do’t. Hell is murky. Fie, my lord, fie, a soldier and afeard? What need we fear who knows it when none can call our power to account?”

Heller is a political analyst and author of ‘No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa.’

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