CityPress - - Careers & Voices - T.O. Molefe

Af­ter the guns fell silent that af­ter­noon in Marikana two years ago, the in­com­pre­hen­si­ble hap­pened. The Na­tional Pros­e­cut­ing Au­thor­ity (NPA) used the doc­trine of com­mon pur­pose to charge the 270 sur­viv­ing min­ers in po­lice cus­tody with the mur­ders of their 34 dead col­leagues.

The com­mon pur­pose doc­trine holds all par­ties in­volved in a crime re­spon­si­ble for its con­se­quences. It was most in­fa­mously used by the apartheid govern­ment to charge Solomon Mahlangu (21) with the mur­ders of two civil­ians even though he did not fire any gun­shots nor bran­dish a firearm.

He was part of an Umkhonto weSizwe trio that had sneaked into the coun­try to smug­gle pam­phlets and weapons be­fore the first June 16 an­niver­sary. Prose­cu­tors said he had acted in com­mon pur­pose to com­mit mur­der with Jo­hannes Mot­loung, one of the trio who had fired the fa­tal shots in a gun bat­tle with po­lice as the three tried to evade cap­ture. Mahlangu was found guilty and hanged shortly be­fore he turned 23.

In the case of the Marikana min­ers, the NPA dropped the charges af­ter a pub­lic out­cry. But their think­ing in bring­ing the charges il­lus­trates the ex­treme prej­u­dice with which the strik­ing min­ers were re­garded from the begin­ning, as tes­ti­mony at the Marikana Com­mis­sion of In­quiry again high­lighted this week.

The tes­ti­mony fo­cused on why Lon­min man­age­ment re­fused to speak to the strik­ers de­spite re­peated pleas from po­lice and the min­ers.

The an­swer is found in a se­ries of con­ver­sa­tions be­tween Lon­min man­age­ment, its then nonex­ec­u­tive direc­tor and share­holder Cyril Ramaphosa, lead­ers of the Na­tional Union of Minework­ers (NUM) and Cabi­net mem­bers.

At the time, Ramaphosa was widely be­lieved to be the next ANC deputy pres­i­dent, giv­ing his opinion enor­mous weight among Cabi­net mem­bers who would soon be re­port­ing to him.

From Au­gust 10, two days be­fore the mur­ders of two se­cu­rity guards, Lon­min man­age­ment had made up its mind. It char­ac­terised the un­pro­tected strike as il­le­gal and re­fused to meet the min­ers.

Lon­min’s re­fusal to meet some of its most hard-work­ing em­ploy­ees – rock drill op­er­a­tors who toil for hours in wet, danger­ous and cramped cav­erns un­der­ground – al­lowed ten­sions to es­ca­late.

When the guards were killed, Lon­min dug in its heels. It used the rea­son­ing of com­mon pur­pose to im­pute re­spon­si­bil­ity for the mur­ders to all the strik­ers. It con­vinced Ramaphosa and the NUM, which also re­fused to meet the min­ers, that the wild­cat strike was a crim­i­nal act.

Ramaphosa, likely act­ing with con­flicted in­ter­ests, car­ried this prej­u­di­cial view into his con­ver­sa­tions with Cabi­net mem­bers.

He sent an email 24 hours be­fore the mas­sacre boast­ing to Lon­min man­age­ment he had con­vinced then min­ing min­is­ter Su­san Shabangu to change her char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion of the strike from a labour dis­pute to a crim­i­nal act. He said she would con­vince Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and then po­lice min­is­ter Nathi Mthethwa “to act in a more pointed way”.

Shabangu, a for­mer deputy po­lice min­is­ter, had once told top cops to ig­nore reg­u­la­tions and kill crim­i­nals with a sin­gle shot. And that’s what they did on Au­gust 16, con­vinced by Lon­min, Ramaphosa, Cabi­net min­is­ters and SAPS man­age­ment that the min­ers were crim­i­nals.

In a heart-rend­ing scene in the Marikana doc­u­men­tary, Min­ers Shot Down, a group of min­ers are plead­ing with po­lice to be al­lowed to keep the sticks and spears which they said they needed for pro­tec­tion.

They are hum­ble and re­spect­ful. For a mo­ment, they al­most win over Wil­liam Mpembe, the North West deputy po­lice com­mis­sioner.

In that mo­ment, he sees through the un­fair char­ac­ter­i­sa­tion and re­gards the min­ers as hu­man be­ings.

Just then, his phone rings. A com­mand from the other end hard­ens his at­ti­tude. As the min­ers try to leave peace­fully, po­lice open fire, caus­ing the chaos that led to three min­ers and two of­fi­cers dy­ing.

The scene is a re­minder that the prej­u­di­cial way the min­ers were char­ac­terised forced them into sit­u­a­tions where they first had to ne­go­ti­ate for their hu­man­ity to be recog­nised be­fore any­body would lis­ten to their griev­ances. It is also a re­minder that those who char­ac­terised them crim­i­nals have blood on their hands.

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