Due to important feedback from our valued subscribers, we have edited this piece to include some information previously left out. Edited 18 August 2019
Marikana – We Must Not Forget
16th August 2012, 34 miners lost their lives during a strike that was meant to pressurise for better wages from their employers. The massacre, the first mass shooting since South Africa gained her independence was a shock for everyone especially since it was orchestrated by those meant to safeguard the citizenry.
“Architects of the struggle for economic freedom”, is how AMCU’s Mathunjwa has described the sacrifice of those who died that fateful day. The fact that the black people had suffered extremely under the apartheid reign should have been a constant reminder to those sent to bring order to the striking miners, majority of whom were black, that there are better ways to solve issues other than the violence that led to loss of lives.
But the 34 miners were not the only ones who lost their lives. According to reports, “During the period from Sunday 12 August to Tuesday 14 August, 10 people were killed including 6 mine workers, 2 Lonmin security guards and 2 SAPS members. Three of the mine workers, and the two SAPS members, were killed in a clash between strikers and SAPS members on the afternoon of 13 August. The remaining 5 people are also known to or believed to have been killed by strikers…”
However, the point here is, a life is a life, whether it is of a black, yellow or white person, a policeman or a civilian. No-one should die because another person was impatient or unwilling to sit down and work out issues that will always arise as long there are things we do together. The Marikana massacre drew scorn for the government of the day which was blamed for being responsible for the killing of black people just as the apartheid regime had been doing. But, scorn alone does not take care of the underlying problem. There is a perception among the law enforcers that whenever there is a group of people agitating for something, they are bound to be criminals. The law keepers in some instances take the law they are supposed to be upholding into their own hands and become judge, jury and executors all at once.
On the other hand, members of the public are known to have an unhealthy attitude towards policemen and law enforcing agents, regarding them with distrust whenever they are seen trying to do their duty. When a mob gets unruly, the first target for their anger is the policemen who are perceived to be on the side of the enemy. This, not only makes the work of the law enforcers difficult, it also most often than not escalates to running battles with them. Senseless loss of life and/or serious injuries usually are the result when this happens.
When people go on strike, it is usually after they have made their intentions known to their employers as the law requires so that the strike is deemed legal. There are times when the go-ahead is not given but the strikers will go ahead and strike anyway because they feel it is the only way to have their voice heard. Whether a strike is legal or not, it is absolutely wrong for the police or anyone charged with keeping order to go to the extreme of taking the life of another person. Even if the police in this instance were smarting from the loss of 2 of their own and other innocent lives, restraint would have gone a long way in avoiding more bloodshed. The system is in place that is supposed to take care of the law breakers. The police should arrest and bring the strikers to court to answer for breaking the law instead of snuffing out their lives in cold blood.
It beats logic that a whole group of employees would down their tools if they did not have any genuine grievances. Maybe if the employer of the Marikana strikers had engaged these miners and addressed their grievances, the strike and ensuing bloodshed would have been avoided. The day would not have been marked on our calendars as a day to remember those who are no longer here with us. They died because they dared to express their dissatisfaction with the payment they were receiving for their hard labour under the ground, or trying to do their job.
As per the recommendations of the inquiry into the massacre, the training of officers and the avoidance of the use of force among others need to be implemented. According to retired Judge Ian Farlam, who headed the inquiry into the Marikana massacre, nothing much has changed and important recommendations in his report have not yet been implemented by government.
It may be too late to save those lives now, but it is not too late to review the laws that govern the way strikers are treated in this country in order to make sure another occurrence like this does not happen ever again. Today, many families are grieving the loss of their loved ones, a father, husband, brother, son, sister or daughter who died during that period. These people were the breadwinners for their families and no amount of remorse of monetary compensation could ever heal the pain or fill the gap left behind by their deaths.
As calls for the affected families to be compensated and for action to be taken against those responsible for the massacre grow, it is important that we, as South Africans, must never forget the Marikana tragedy. We must remember so that it is never repeated again. August 16 should not become just another day that no-one quite remembers its significance except those directly affected. All of us should remember so that we teach our children and their children that no matter how dire the prevailing circumstances are, it is never right for lives to be arbitrary cut short in the name of keeping order or fighting for perceived rights.