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The shocking collusion behind the Marikana miners’ massacre

This article is over 10 years, 9 months old
A year after the Marikana massacre, miners’ lawyer Jim Nichol looks at the facts revealed by the inquiry
Issue 2366
Miners at the site of the Marikana massacre
Miners at the site of the Marikana massacre (Pic: Government of South Africa)

The story of the run-up to the Marikana massacre is one of collusion between the state, the platinum mining company Lonmin and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). 

Each had the same vested interest in breaking the unofficial strike at Marikana. Lonmin came up with a strategy to achieve it. 

Lonmin wrote to the minister of mines, Susan Shabangu, “The state should bring to bear on this crucial sector of the economy using resources at its disposal to resolutely bring the situation under control. 

“The police and the army presence needs to be planned.”

The NUM, that once mighty union, is an utter disgrace. From day one it organised scabbing. I’ve seen emails from the full time branch secretaries to Lonmin’s human resources department saying, “You provide the transport, we’ll provide the workers.”

Some 3,000 miners marched down to the NUM offices on 11 August, where they were confronted by 20 or 30 officials of the union.

The protest came under fire and two miners were shot in the back and seriously injured as they fled. 

NUM lawyer Karel Tip was quite happy to tell the inquiry in his opening remarks that “a confrontation ensued between the marchers and a number of NUM members during which firearms were discharged. 

“Although there already appeared to be differing versions regarding this incident, NUM will in due course lead evidence that in the circumstances the use of firearms by NUM members was justified.”

NUM president Senzeni Zokwana turned up at the Lonmin offices on 12 August. In documents that I’ve seen, he discussed how to break the strike.


He came out of that meeting and immediately rang up the minister of police Nathi Mthethwa on his mobile. He told this to the commission. He said he wanted the army and the police at Marikana fast.

NUM general secretary Frans Baleni issued a statement the following day, 13 August. “We call for the deployment of a special task force or the South African National Defence Force to deal decisively with the criminal elements in Rustenburg and its surrounding mines,” it said.

But the real core of the organisation against the miners was disclosed in emails. They tell you something about how the state co-operates with employers.

Cyril Ramaphosa was once a great man who led a much more militant NUM. For those of us that remember, it is gutting to see him now. He owns 23 percent of Lonmin and 100 percent of McDonald’s South Africa.

Ramaphosa told a senior Lonmin director that he called minster Shabangu, “I told her that her silence over Lonmin was bad for her and the government. She said she was going to issue a statement.

“I spoke to Zokwana. He and Frans Baleni want to meet me to discuss what they should do next. I will be talking to ANC general secretary Gwede Mantashe to suggest they should intervene.”

The director replied, “I heard the minister on the radio this morning. She said she had been briefed and this was a wage dispute. Not sure who’s briefed her.”

He went on to say, “This is not to be characterised as an industrial relations matter. This is a case of civil unrest and criminal issues that could not be resolved without political intervention and needs the situation to be stabilised by the police and the army.”

Ramaphosa emailed back a couple of hours later and said he had spoken to Shabangu and she accepted it was a criminal issue.

He finished, “She is going into cabinet and will brief the president”. This is all on the day before the massacre.

Shabangu had previously been minister of police. In 2008 she advised police officers on how to tackle crime—“You must kill the bastards if they threaten you”. 


She went on, “You must not worry about the regulations. That is my responsibility.” To make her point clear she concluded, “You have been given guns, now use them. I want no warning shots. You have one shot and it must be a kill shot.”

Lonmin provided the police with a headquarters, and banks of monitors that let them watch what was happening with the strikers. Lonmin briefed the police twice each day. 

Lonmin provided the fire brigade and services on the day of the killing. Lonmin was contracted to provide medical services and detention facilities. And Lonmin offered the senior security forces its own game farm for a debrief once it was all over. 

So the scene was set. The 800 police officers were heavily armed. Each has a pistol, then there were water cannon, grenades, helicopters and armoured cars. 

But there were also the notorious R-5 rifles—a lethal military weapon which fires 600 rounds a minute.

So the massacre started. When the first miners ran to avoid being trapped by razor wire they were shot down and 16 were killed. 

But in a way what happened next was even more horrific. The survivors were hunted down and executed. 

At the commission we see this video again and again. You think you’d get used to it, but you don’t. The police killed 34 in total and wounded another 78.

Then they arrested 270 miners and charged them with the killing. And the police claimed this was self defence.

Jim has represented miners for free at the Farlam inquiry. The commission has been going on for eight months and is likely to go on for another six

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