(GIN)–A commission hearing testimony on last year’s deadly miners’ strike, heard that white employees at the Lonmin mine got preferential treatment at the expense of their black counterparts, provoking anger and resentment.
“There is still segregation in the mines based on race,” rockdrill operator Shadrack Zandisile Mtshamba told the commission in Pretoria. “All white people are given positions like mine captains…Many white people joined the mine while we worked at Lonmin but they now have better positions.”
He said the August 2012 protest at Marikana was inspired by the desire of black workers to be on par with their white counterparts.
“Lonmin should have spoken to workers instead of calling the police,” Mtshamba said. “They called the police to come and shoot the protesters. Now Lonmin should be giving something to the widows who lost loved ones.”
The Farlam Commission of Inquiry, chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam, is investigating the strike-related violence at Lonmin’s platinum mining operations at Marikana in August 2012. Thirty-four people, mostly striking mineworkers, were shot dead in a clash with police, more than 70 were wounded, and over 200 were arrested on Aug. 16, 2012. Police claimed to be trying to disarm and disperse the strikers.
Also called to testify at the inquiry was Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, the frontrunner to become South Africa’s next leader. At the time, he was a non-executive director in Lonmin and played a limited role in its operations. He conceded he didn’t pay adequate attention to the living conditions of workers or the wage negotiations that sparked the protests.
“I deeply regret the deaths of all those people who died at Marikana,” Ramaphosa told the commission. “I did not foresee the fateful events that unfolded.”
However, transcripts obtained by the Daily Maverick news indicate that Ramaphosa had been pressuring the police minister to act against the striking workers. Specifically, he was quoted as telling Police Minister Nathi Mthetwa that “the South African Police Service needed to take appropriate steps to protect life and property and to arrest the perpetrators of the terrible acts of violence and murder.”
And, in a chat with Mines Minister Susan Shabangu, he said he wanted her to know about “increasing acts of violence… which in Lonmin’s view were criminal and would not be resolved without political intervention.”
“The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labor dispute,” he said in an email to Lonmin colleagues. “They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterized as such.”
Meanwhile, an editorial in South Africa’s Daily Maverick, recalled the killing of Michael Brown.
“Most people think of the Marikana massacre as a terrible thing that happened to other people, a world away from their own lives,” wrote editor Ranjeni Munusami. “Just because those in power treat the people of Marikana like children of a lesser God, does not mean we should too.
“In the U.S. city of Ferguson in Missouri, a state of emergency was declared this weekend as protests intensified over the killing of an unarmed teenager by a police officer. We know who Mike Brown is because his community is demanding justice.” Then he asked: “Why are WE not?”