Humble Zuma gives miners a hearing
One could feel the tension as President Jacob Zuma listened to angry workers at Marikana informal settlement yesterday.
As Zuma - who stood under an umbrella surrounded by his VIP bodyguards - waited for his turn to speak to the workers, a self-appointed committee purporting to represent striking rock-drill operators told him of the events that led to the bloody shootings on Thursday last week that left 34 people dead.
They also told him of their anger at allegations that he was among those who gave authorisation for the police to use "maximum force".
Their leader, Xolani Ndzuza, told Zuma that Lonmin workerswere not impressed by his decision not to visit them the day after the massacre.
Zuma had met police officers only and visited injured workers in hospital.
"The first person who came here to comfort us was [expelled ANC Youth League president] Julius Malema.
"He organised lawyers who went to court to represent those who were arrested last week.
"But the person we voted for [Zuma] failed us," he said, followed by angry chants from the crowd.
Zuma had been scheduled to speak at an ANC memorial lecture in Mafikeng yesterday but delayed his trip and detoured to Marikana, apparently in the wake of mounting pressure to address the furious workers.
Though steering clear of talking about Malema, Zuma apologised for not visiting the workers last week, saying it was already "too dark" when he got there .
"I met the police to ask what happened . I then took a decision to [establish] a commission of inquiry that can dig deeper to find the truth."
He said he would discuss the workers' demands with Lonmin's management. The demands include more than tripling their salaries- from R4000 to R12500.
"I have heard your side of the story of what happened last week. If there is something that you need to talk about, you can speak to the ministers who I have asked to come here and offer support to you.
"If it is me that you want, I will come," he said.
The residents of the informal settlement rejected an offer on Tuesday by the interministerial committee, led by Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, to organise a memorial service for the slain workers.
After Zuma spoke, one of the workers asked him to intervene and secure the release of the 259 workers arrested last week.
As he made his way to his car, Zuma occasionally stopped to shake hands with some of the workers, while others used their phones to take pictures of him.
Earlier, Joseph Mathunjwa, the president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, told journalists his union was being "sidelined" from all meetings involving Lonmin management despite the fact that it had signed an "organisational rights agreement" with the company.
He claimed management had been holding talks with the National Union of Mineworkers, its rival union, instead.