28 May 2015

Commissioning the present: Marikana and its Aftermath, a convening by SERI and Wits History Workshop

The Farlam or Marikana Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate a conflict between the police and the striking miners of Lonmin Mine in Marikana, in the North West Province which led to the deaths of 44 people (miners and the police), over 70 injuries and 250 arrests in August 2012. The commission was initially set to have two phases; phase 1 dealt with establishing accountability and who was responsible for the injuries and the deaths that happened between the 9thand 16th of August 2012. At this phase the actions taken by the South African Police Services (SAPS) were to be examined in relation to the violence that took place during the massacre. Phase 2 was meant to investigate the underlining causes of the violence and also review the impact of the massacre on the people of Marikana. However, due to the change in the Terms Of References (TOR), Phase 2 of the Commission did not take place.

A NUM poster commemorating killed striking miners in 1986.

During the convening, there was a discussion about social, economic and political context around the Marikana Commission. The presenters engaged with what 'constitutes' a judicial commission. There were strong sentiments that political involvement in judicial commissions fails the work of the commission itself, particularly regarding the requirement to establish responsibility and accountability for the violence. In the absence of the Commission's report, South Africa does not know who the Farlam Commission claims is responsible for the violence and who should be accountable for the deaths and injuries at Marikana.

The relationship between corporates and government took the spotlight when the living conditions of the workers, their families and the Marikana community were exposed, depicting an area with no sanitation, decent housing, education infrastructure and electricity. This is despite the fact that the mine itself is fully resourced.

The lack of development in the Marikana community implies that Lonmin's labour and social plans have not been implemented or enforced by the government. The labour and social plans, which include housing, education, employment and sanitation programmes in the area of business, is a legal obligation and the businesses may be shut down if the plans are not implemented.

In the Marikana case, the involvement of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa who was then Director of Lonmin, showed signs of unhealthy relationship between government and the corporate sector. This exposed the potential of government complicity with non-compliant, lucrative corporate entities.

From a gendered perspective, the convening looked at the role that women have had to take on since their male family members (mostly husbands) died that fateful day in August 2012. Some of the women have had to take up jobs in the same mine where their husbands died to support their families. In the same breath women have played an essential role during the Commission in restoring the dignity of their husbands in depicting them in a way that counter-narrates the government and media's depiction of the miners as 'hooligans' and 'trouble makers'.

A poster of 1986-1987 miners strike

This led to the discussions around the narratives of the Commission and the narratives of the families and the workers as highlighted at the panel discussion on "Popular Politics after Marikana". The Marikana Commission was seen as the Commission that was enacted to 'control' the narratives around what really happened at Marikana. That means that the stories and actions of the miners gave way to the Commission's narrative. This led to a discussion of the politics of telling narratives of tragedies from the bottom up, and highlighted the fact that historically in South Africa, truths are told from the authoritative perspective which produces one sided narratives about a much diversified South Africa.

The convening gave comprehensive insight into the mining industry in South Africa and the lived realities of the people that make the mining industry lucrative and one of the most developed in Africa. The Commission's report has been handed to the president Jacob Zuma, but no date had been announced as to when the report will be publicly available.  SAHA, The Marikana Support Campaign (MSC), and the Right2Know Campaign (R2K) have submitted a PAIA application for this document.

To read the press release from the UDF's pledge in support of striking mine workers in 1987, see SAHA's collection AL2431: The United Democratic Front collection. 

To see more posters of the 1986 mine strike - as seen above - view SAHA's collection AL2446:The SAHA Poster Collection. 

View the SERI and Wits History Workshop panel programme for Commissioning the present: Marikana and its aftermath.