Ahead of the tenth anniversary, Saleh Mamon recalls the events and examines what has happened since

This article first appeared on the Labour Hub website.

On 16th August 2012, heavily armed South African police officers cordoned hundreds of striking miners at a koppie (small hill) not far from the platinum mine they worked in and the informal settlement of Nkageng where many lived. The miners were meeting, as they did usually during the strike, to discuss progress and plans for action. The police ordered them to disperse but the mineworkers refused to leave and demanded a meeting with their employers.

Realising that they were trapped, the mine workers tried to move off the koppie and make way to Nkageng. The police opened fire without warning killing 17 and pursued fleeing miners, killing a further 17 and leaving 78 injured. Furthermore, 270 mineworkers were unlawfully arrested and charged under common purpose law, accusing them of causing the deaths of their colleagues.  

On 10th August, nearly 3,000 workers had walked off from their job at the Marikana platinum mine operated by Lonmin (short for London Mining) in the Rustenburg municipality of North West province after managers refused to meet them. The mineworkers were not only protesting against low wages but also against poor working and living conditions – the informal settlements where many of them lived in shacks without basic necessities of water, sanitation and electricity.

Tensions were running high in the area following the strike. There was a series of violent clashes resulting in fatalities involving Lonmin security guards, the police, members of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) on one side, and the striking miners who had joined the emerging Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).

There is ample evidence that the violent attack by the police on the Marikana miners was well planned. There was collusion between the police commanders, the Lonmin management and South African government ministers. The day before the assault, the police ordered 4,000 rounds of live ammunition for R5 assault rifles and four mortuary vans. The police also called in the Tactical Response Team, a specialised unit for dealing with extremely volatile incidents.

Cyril Ramaphosa, now president, was a shareholder and a non-executive director in Lonmin at that time. As a senior ANC leader and a member of its National Executive Committee, he had immense political influence. Instead of calling for fair and peaceful negotiations securing a better deal for the miners, he labelled the strikers as criminals and urged strong police action. The ANC government wanted to assure the mining conglomerates that their profits were safe and they would bring any strikes for better wages under control.

Following the massacre, the ANC government ran a slick public relations campaign to deflect any criticism by blaming the striking miners for the violence. The official narrative was that the armed men advanced on the police lines rapidly, posing a serious threat and leaving the police no choice but to shoot in self-defence. The deaths were described as an unintended  ‘tragedy’ as opposed to a ‘massacre’.

President Zuma commissioned an inquiry led by retired judge Ian Farlam with the task to “investigate matters of public, national and international concern arising out of the tragic incidents at the Lonmin Mine in Marikana.” The Farlam Commission sat for 300 days beginning on 1st October at the Rustenberg Civic Centre, listening to testimony from widows, victims, police, company officials and other parties. The official report sanitised state violence and offered only vague accounts of the killings of the mineworkers – attacks on the police received more detailed attention – and made generalised recommendations for investigation and prosecution by other state bodies.

This was the most lethal use of force by South African police officers against protestors since the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 and Soweto students in 1976. In these cases, the protestors were challenging the apartheid regime against the pass laws in the first instance and the imposition of Afrikaans as the main language of instruction in the second.

The Marikana massacre attested that the non-racial democratic transformation brought about under the leadership of Nelson Mandela had never broken the link between the state and the corporations that benefited from the exploitation of cheap black labour. The shock and betrayal felt by the mineworkers after witnessing the murder of their comrades destroyed the somewhat paternalistic relationship that had come to exist between the bulk of the working class, the co-opted trade unions and the state in post-apartheid South Africa.

The repressive state structures of the police, the intelligence services and the army had remained in place to exercise state violence against the black working class. The South African extractive economy was deeply integrated into the world market and the new rising black elite eased into the neo-colonial relationship with the established economic power. The ownership of land, factories, mines remained unchanged leaving the majority of the black communities in poverty. The legacy of social inequality and violence continued as before.

After ten years, not a single officer has been charged for the killings nor has the South African Police Service been held to account. The 34 families of those who died received some compensation for loss of income but their claims of constitutional violations and general damages specific to each family’s circumstance have stalled.

The state has not paid any compensation to the 78 mineworkers who were injured and their case will be heard in the Pretoria High Court from late July to August. All the mineworkers who were arrested unlawfully have received compensation. The injured and arrested mineworkers have also launched a court application to hold President Cyril Ramaphosa and Sibanye-Stillwater, which bought Lonmin’s Marikana operations in 2019, liable.

The conditions of the families who live in the shacks have changed little over the ten years. They still do not have their basic necessities of water and electricity. The Marikana mines are highly profitable, yet the owners have not taken action to improve the living conditions of these communities.

On 16th August 2022, on the tenth anniversary of the Marikana massacre, thousands of miners will gather at the koppie to remember their 34 colleagues who were brutally killed as they have done every year, Widows, families, fellow workers, union leaders, politicians and church leaders will demand those responsible  be prosecuted and jailed.

The City of London is deeply embedded in the extractive mining industry in South Africa over decades in financing the operations of the Anglo-American corporations which are highly profitable and provide rich dividends to the investors. British imperialism which supported the Apartheid regime still wields enormous power over the economy and politics of South Africa. 

International solidarity is all the more critical to ensure that the Marikana massacre is not erased from history and that there is justice and accountability. In the UK, the Marikana Solidarity Collective has organised two key events to remember the Marikana massacre

Firstly, there will be three film screenings on Sunday 24th July at the British Film Institute (BFI) with discussions led by panels to reflect on the tragic 2012 massacre of mineworkers in Marikana, South Africa and their ramifications.

12 noon ‘Winnie’,  DirectorPascale Lamche.An account of the life and struggle of Winnie Mandela, the extraordinary anti-apartheid activist at the key moment of transition.

2pm ‘Miners Shot Down’,  DirectorRehad Desai.An acclaimed and compelling documentary about the Marikana massacre.

3.45 pm Panel Q&A Discussion with Asanda Benya, University of Cape Town researcher, on the women miners’ perspective in Marikana; Andy Higginbottom on the London connection.

4.30 pm ‘Blue Notes and Exiled Voices’ DirectorImruh Bakari.An affectionate portrait of exiled South African musicians in London: Louis Moholo, Pinise Saul and Hugh Masekela.

The events will be co-chaired from Marikana Solidarity by Amanda Latimer (Kingston University) and Cecil Gutzmore (retired activist and academic).

Tickets £10 for all or part of the day https://whatson.bfi.org.uk/Online/default.asp?BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::permalink=commemoratingmarikana

A handful of complimentary tickets are available, speak to a Collective member or email Marikana Solidarity Collective, email: mambushlives@gmail.com

Refreshment: You can purchase drinks / sandwiches and eat in the venue. With BFI’s agreement you are welcome to bring your own refreshments to consume.

Secondly, on Tuesday 16th August at 4.30 p.m. there will be a vigil to mark the 10th anniversary of the Marikana massacre outside the South Africa House on the east side of Trafalgar Square. Everyone is welcome to join in solidarity.

Sources and further readings

Andy Higginbottom (March 2018) ‘The Marikana Massacre in South Africa: the Results of Toxic Collusion’ https://www.researchgate.net/publication/323607571_The_Marikana_Massacre_in_South_Africa_the_Results_of_Toxic_Collusion

Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation (CSVR)  (June 27 2022) Report ‘Reparations for victims of the Marikana massacre’ https://www.csvr.org.za/reparations-for-victims-of-the-marikana-masssacre/

Greg Marinovich (16 August 2021) ‘From the Archive | The women of Marikana’https://www.newframe.com/the-women-of-marikana/

Greg Nicolson Marikana – a massacre still without any criminal consequences 19 May 2022 https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2022-05-19-marikana-a-massacre-still-without-any-criminal-consequences/

Mail and Guardian (30 July 2014) ‘Toxic’ Lonmin-police collusion blamed for Marikana massacre’  https://mg.co.za/article/2014-07-30-toxic-lonmin-police-collusion-blamed-for-marikana-massacre/

Niren Tolsi and Paul Botes (13 August 2021) South Africa: ‘I Don’t Feel Like a Citizen of This Country’ https://allafrica.com/stories/202108140276.html

Sarah Bruchhausen (16 August 2021) Mountains and massacres https://www.newframe.com/mountains-and-massacres/

SERI (2015) Commissioning ‘The Present: Marikana And Its Aftermath’  http://www.marikana-conference.com/
Tendai Marima (20 August 2015) ‘After Marikana, little has changed for miners’ https://www.aljazeera.com/author/tendai_marima_201147112737784307

Yvonne Erasmus (22 Aug 2021)  ‘Marikana and the many faces of justice’ https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2021-08-22-marikana-and-the-many-faces-of-justice/

Saleh Mamon is a retired teacher who campaigns for peace and justice. His research interests focus on imperialism and underdevelopment, both their history and continuing presence. He is committed to democracy, socialism and secularism. He blogs at https://salehmamon.com/ 

Image: Marikana” by Truthout.org is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.