Blue Murder: Another side to Marikana story

08 March 2016 - 02:47 By Niren Tolsi


On August 16 2012 the South African police shot and killed 34 striking miners at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mining operation in the North West province. "Marikana" would go down, alongside Sharpeville, Bhisho and the June 16 1976 murder of schoolchildren in Soweto, as one of the bloodiest massacres in South Africa's violent history - the largest mass killing of citizens by the post-apartheid state.In the days that followed the massacre national and international attention tended to focus on the line of policemen mowing down miners near a cattle kraal on the verge of the Nkaneng informal settlement, images which had been captured by television cameras and broadcast around the world.The local media focus was fed by bewilderment (that such killings could happen in a democratic South Africa) and trauma (because they had witnessed such killings) experienced by many journalists on the ground that fatal day, but also because of an investigative deficiency within the mainstream media, some of whom had demonstrated a palpably anti-black and anti-poor method in their reporting of the strike in the days leading up to August 16.For a while, the official government and Lonmin spin was swallowed and regurgitated: that the police had shot and killed miners after coming under attack by a group topped up on muthi (traditional medicine) which led them to believe they were invincible against the former's bullets; that the police had killed the striking miners in self-defence.Where exactly all 34 miners were killed, did not register in the media inquiries about the massacre - or in the public's initial imagination. This was until Greg Marinovich published an exposé in the Daily Maverick about the existence of shell casings and alphabetised police signs marking bodies of those killed behind a smaller koppie, a few hundred metres away from the cattle kraal.The police, Marinovich hypothesised, had gone on a murderous hunting expedition far away from the media cameras. It was established at the Commission of Inquiry into Marikana, chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam, that 17 miners were killed at the smaller koppie, or what became known as "scene two", a few hundred metres away from the large koppie where miners gathered daily in protest. Most appeared to have been murdered in cold blood.At the commission, the police legal team did not give any explanations as to why the majority of the men were shot, or killed.Marinovich's initial investigation into scene two is at the core of Murder at Small Koppie. As is the time he spent before and after the massacre embedding himself into the world of the strike and the miners - a group that journalists in general found difficult to infiltrate, or did not care to do so.This access allows for insight into the hard and fast lives of the men striking for R12 500 in 2012. A member of the "Bang-Bang Club" of photojournalists who covered the township violence of the 1980s, Marinovich's writing about the miners has a masculinity that is evident underground and in the shebeens and speakeasies of Marikana.Marinovich also, importantly, highlights evidence of the torture of miners arrested on August 16, at the hands of the police.His use of the evidence submitted to the Farlam Commission allows Marinovich to expose the shortcomings of the police approach to managing the strike, the political motives that appeared to inform their decision to go "tactical" on August 16 and Lonmin's intransigent position not to engage with their workers which added momentum to the violence in the days leading up to August 16 (10 people were killed before the massacre).These are all vital in shifting the dominant narrative around Marikana which, for so long, has reduced the miners to nothing more than bloodthirsty savages on the rampage. It is also important because media houses have shown little enthusiasm to cover the Farlam Commission proceedings with a coherence that would have established a counter-narrative away from the official line - to the detriment of public knowledge.Tolsi has been investigating the Marikana massacre and its aftermath with photographer Paul Botes for over three years. Their books will be published later this year.Murder at Small Koppie - The Real Story of the Marikana Massacre (Penguin Random House) by Greg Marinovich, R250

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