Marikana preventable: Zokwana

07 February 2013 - 20:50 By Sapa
Image: Antonio Muchave

The shooting near Lonmin's Marikana mine could have been prevented had police acted sooner, a union leader told the Farlam commission of inquiry on Thursday.

"... Had it been done earlier, in terms of the police being present, people being disarmed, we believe that maybe what we saw later couldn't have happened," National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Senzeni Zokwana said in Rustenburg.

He was testifying at a hearing of the commission, which is probing the deaths of 44 people during a strike at the North West mine.

Thirty-four strikers were shot dead and 78 were wounded when police opened fire while trying to disperse a group of protesters gathered on a hill near Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana on August 16 last year.

In the preceding week, 10 people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed.

Dali Mpofu, for the miners injured and arrested during the strike, told Zokwana he would argue the NUM was against the strike because it wanted to prevent loss of membership.

Mpofu said the union's membership had dropped to 38 percent at Impala Platinum during a strike earlier in 2012.

"Nothing is [further] from the truth... our concern was that people were killed. Chaos was raining," Zokwana said.

"Our concern was simple. People were being hunted. We don't believe membership should be gained at all cost. We don't believe the end justifies the means."

Mpofu said the union had not only assisted non-striking miners to go to work, but that its shop stewards had fired at strikers on August 11.

NUM shop stewards allegedly fired at a large group of strikers who marched towards the union's offices at the mine with the intention of burning it down. Two strikers were injured and had to be hospitalised.

Mpofu argued that these strikers were shot at because it was believed they were not from the NUM.

Zokwana said the NUM did not support violence nor did it organise violence.

"You will never find that NUM grew after a strike, after violence."

He said new members joined at union offices.

"We have not called for people to arm. Membership that will come with blood of others is not worth NUM."

Mpofu said he would call witnesses to testify that the strikers had not intended to attack the NUM's office or the shop stewards.

Zokwana said Lonmin guards had given statements about the strikers' plans and he questioned why the strikers had carried weapons if their intentions were peaceful.

After the shooting at the NUM office, instead of gathering at a stadium at the mine, protesters had started to gather on the hill where the shooting took place on August 16.

Mpofu put it to Zokwana that if the protesters had not been forced to spend the days following the shooting on the hill, the "massacre" would not have happened.

Mpofu said he would accept that another sort of clash between strikers and the authorities might have taken place if they had continued to gather at the mine stadium.

"The incident of [August 16], the massacre of those workers, was the most unfortunate in the history of this country," Zokwana replied.

"Not only a loss to family members, it changed the way our country is viewed by those who invest in mining."

He said the commission would be able to conclude at the end of the hearing whether Mpofu's statement was true.

The commission continues.