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Marikana massacre inquiry: The truth behind the cover-up

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The South African state’s official inquiry into the killing of 34 striking miners in 2012 has provoked shock and disbelief, Rehad Desai and Jim Nichol told Ken Olende
Issue 2460
Amcu miners’ union leader Joseph Mathunjwa addresses an anniversary rally last year
Amcu miners’ union leader Joseph Mathunjwa addresses an anniversary rally last year (Pic: Clare Fermont)

Police gunned down 112 striking platinum miners and killed 34 of them in Marikana, South Africa, in 2012 and threw South African society into crisis.

Now, three years later, a long-awaited report into the massacre has been released—and miners, their families and supporters have branded it a whitewash.

Lawyer Jim Nichol represented the dead miners’ families. He told Socialist Worker, “This weak report doesn’t provide any answers to my clients—the 34 widows and mothers and fathers of those who were killed.

“One widow, Betty Gadlela, said to me, ‘Why does this report not tell me why they shot my husband as if he was a wild dog?’”

Hundreds of miners and supporters met in Marikana last Sunday to discuss the report. Rehad Desai from the Marikana Support Campaign in South Africa was there. He told Socialist Worker, “The meeting was full of shock and disbelief.

“Lots of miners had given evidence to the inquiry and gave a clear picture of what had happened. They couldn’t see why the final result was so full of inconsistencies and contradictions.”

Many at the meeting were furious at the report. Former strike leader Xolani Nzuza told the meeting the commission that produced the report had wasted its time.

Another worker, Godine Mokotedi, asked, “Who gave orders to kill?”

The massacre took place as miners were on unofficial strike. Many were still in the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) that was associated with the ruling ANC government. 

But many were breaking from it, saying it did not represent them, and supporting a new union, Amcu, that led the unofficial action. 

The government set up the commission to investigate the massacre. The commission’s report takes care to protect key figures in that government.

Cyril Ramaphosa is one of those at the heart of the dispute. In the 1980s he became known as the firebrand leader of the NUM, heroically leading strikes against the apartheid regime.


By 2012 he was a director of Lonmin, the British-based mining firm that ran the mine at Marikana, and the country’s second richest black businessman.

Now he is South Africa’s deputy president.

Jim told Socialist Worker, “The report spends an extraordinary amount of time exonerating Cyril Ramaphosa. The state colluded with big business and Lonmin to break the strike—and they get away scot free.”

Lonmin officials worked with police to plan their response to the miners’ strike in the run-up to the massacre. The firm also provided the cops with helicopters, CCTV, razor wire and other facilities.

But Jim said, “There is no criticism of this collusion. Rather the commissioners thought it was a good idea for the company to help the police.”

Retired judge Ian Farlam presented the commission’s report into the massacre and other deaths connected to the strike to the government three months ago. But South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma refused to release it.

Finally he appeared on national TV on Thursday of last week when it was published.

The report details how people were shot. But it doesn’t make clear who was responsible for the killings. And it spends a lot of time blaming strikers for the violence.

Jim said, “The report’s first paragraph says the ‘tragic’ events ‘originated’ from the miners’ decision to launch an unofficial strike. It says miners were ‘enforcing the strike by violence and intimidation’.

“Six hundred pages later it concludes by condemning ‘in the strongest term the violent manner in which the strike was sought to be enforced’.”

In the pages in between, some 250 paragraphs condemn miners for their violence and say they brought the massacre on themselves.

Jim said, “Police vehicles channelled the miners towards 60 police officers carrying semi-automatic machine guns. A rollout of razor wire blocked their way out.

“Yet the report said police must have thought miners would attack them and so were justified in firing in self-defence.”

Zuma focused on the fact that the report exonerated Cyril Ramaphosa when he unveiled it last week.


Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma

For many the cover-up is not surprising.

“The historical record of commissions looking into violence by states against their citizens has been very weak,” said Rehad. “In the 1990s we had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission into apartheid.

“It recommended the prosecution of 400 people. So far no one has been prosecuted.”

Rehad said such commissions are “set up to absolve the state”.

“It is set up to lay a little blame everywhere,” he said. “But when it comes to responsibility it gets Orwellian. It claims it can’t find sufficient evidence to talk of government involvement in the killings.”

For Zuma, although the police shouldn’t have acted as they did, the killings were simply a tragic accident. Yet the evidence points to a plan to attack miners.

Zuma changed the terms of reference for the commission last year. It lost the right to investigate government departments. 

Rehad explained that national police commissioner Riah Phiyega spoke to the local police chief in Marikana three times on the phone on the day of the massacre. But the change in the terms of reference meant that “the commission couldn’t demand transcripts to know what was said”.

Lonmin’s transcript of a meeting with Phiyega shows the real fear that the miners’ struggle was generating at the top of society. They discussed their fear at the NUM losing membership and their fear of “contagion” as the new radicalism spread.

This is what bosses, and the state, were keen to smash.

Police had ordered four mortuary wagons—able to accommodate 16 bodies—and 4,000 rounds of machine gun bullets in the run-up to the massacre. The report could not explain why.

Instead it says police should have had better first aid training. 

And it keeps its focus on the miners’ “violence”.


Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the NUM conference last month
Cyril Ramaphosa addressing the NUM conference last month (Pic: Flickr: GovernmentZA )

“Lonmin security attacked them. The NUM union shot two miners in the back. And an unprovoked attack by police left three miners dead.”

Jim said the commission should have reached the obvious conclusion—that miners lived in fear of their lives from further attack.

The report’s recommendations in terms of the police are “mild” according to Rehad. 

“It says there should be further investigations of officers involved,” he explained. “But it doesn’t even call for them to be suspended while they are investigated. It doesn’t call for Phiyega’s immediate resignation, only another inquiry.”

But for activists on the ground, this report is not the end of the story. And it won’t ease South Africa’s crisis.

In the three years the commission examined its evidence, South African society has been shaken to the core. 

A wave of unofficial strikes broke the unquestioned alliance of the ANC, which led the struggle against 

apartheid, with the Cosatu union federation and South African Communist Party.

Miners and their supporters are determined to keep fighting for truth and justice.

Julius Malema, head of a new radical party the Economic Freedom Fighters, said Cyril Ramaphosa must be prosecuted. “We will ensure that he is brought to book because he was at the centre of massacring our people,” he said.

Rehad said, “On 19 August activists will hold a day of action over Marikana. The families plan civil action against figures such as Ramaphosa. We plan to launch a public inquiry led by civil society.

“Marikana is a deep wound in South Africa’s democracy.”

Marikana: A View From the Mountain and a Case to Answer (£6) by Peter Alexander, Thapelo Lekgowa, Botsang Mmope, Luke Sinwell and Bongani Xezwi

Miners Shot Down DVD (£9.99), directed by Rehad Desai

Available at Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. 

Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to

How we first uncovered truth about killings

2012 front page

Breaking the story

Socialist Worker broke the real story of the massacre in August 2012. At the time, most newspapers accepted the police story that they had fired at miners in self defence. 

Socialist Worker said, “The slaughter was not a tragic error of judgement. It was deliberate. The state forces were not protecting themselves from armed workers. They were executing a premeditated plan.”

The commission’s report, for all its failings, confirms that story. 

The shocking footage of the massacre shown on TV news only showed the first killings. It didn’t show police chasing fleeing miners in helicopters, armoured cars and on foot and gunning them down as they fled.

The commission discovered that police had altered their notes to make the attack appear to be unplanned. 

The typed up reports they submitted did not refer to a big confrontation. 

Yet a year into the investigation police were forced to reveal handwritten notes from the morning briefing, headed “D-Day”.

Peter Alexander and his research team investigated the truth behind the massacre and Socialist Worker printed the findings. This began the shift towards the true story being accepted.

Just days before the massacre strikers marched on the local NUM union offices to complain about its lack of support for their struggle.

Some of the commission’s most shocking material comes from the NUM, which now accepts that its members fired on strikers.

People from the NUM office approached one of the two miners who were shot in the back. The commission heard evidence that, “One of the persons said ‘Let’s finish him off’ and used the handle of a spear and struck him with it until it broke.”

The commission also saw evidence about telephone calls between Lonmin boss Cyril Ramaphosa and police minister Nathi Mthethwa.

Its report decided that this did not show any attempt to exert political influence. It said, “The call from Mr Ramaphosa to the minister did not influence her 

decision-making in respect of Marikana.

“She testified that any citizen is entitled to phone the police for assistance.”

Read our original coverage online. The truth behind the massacre—

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