What happened at Marikana on 16 August 2012 is a direct result of the politicisation of the civil service, politicians and government officials who have vested interest in private corporations. Added to that is the relationship between some trade unions and the ruling African National Congress (ANC) that has an interest to maintain its crumbling hegemony across all sectors of the South African society. The ANC government does not see anything wrong with these unholy partnerships because they are beneficiaries of these corrupt relationships and conflict of interest.

In his book, Socialism for a Sceptical Age, Ralph Miliband accurately predicted that when Cosatu can clash with capital, it (Cosatu) will realise where the ANC stands. As it turned out, in this case it was not Cosatu or one of its affiliates that clashed with capital but it was the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), an affiliate of NACTU, a federation with Africanist-Black Consciousness leanings. At any rate, AMCU and Cosatu realised on whose side the ANC stood when it (AMCU) clashed with capital.

The strike for wages by AMCU members was not regarded as a labour dispute because AMCU is not part of the ruling party’s tripartite alliance such as National Union of Mineworkers (NUM). Moreover, those who are now members of AMCU had rejected NUM because they concluded it is collaborating with Lonmin, the capitalist employer.

At the time, Bernard Mokwena, Lonmin’s Executive Vice President wrote an internal memo urging Lonmin to reject negotiations with the striking workers and instead to call the police to deal with them. According to reports, the Chief Commercial Officer of Lonmin, Albert Jamieson, wrote to the minister of mines, Susan Shabangu, urging her to “bring the full might of the state to bear on the situation”. Apparently, Shabangu is a shareholder at Lonmin. Deputy President, Cyril Ramaphosa, is also a shareholder at Lonmin. He sent emails urging some government Ministers such as Nathi Mthethwa and Susan Shabangu to “take concomitant action”. At the time he was just an ANC NEC member.

It emerged that a senior police officer on the scene acceded to the request of the striking workers and was willing to protect them from attacks by NUM and to allow them to go to the other side where they promised to surrender their weapons until he received a call. North West Provincial Commissioner, Miriam Zukiswa Mbombo, watched striking workers on CCTV with Lonmin managers. She also set up a joint operations centre at Lonmin offices and her officers also worked with Lonmin and NUM who were helping them to identify strike leaders. The legislation which govern the South Africa police forbids police officers from actively participating in party politics but Mbombo blatantly and flagrantly violated this law.

The Marikana Commission of Inquiry, chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam (The Farlam Commission) has it on record that Lonmin security guards are the ones who fired first at the striking workers with rubber bullets injuring scores of them. They had called on the police to act but the police told them the strikers were not causing any trouble. Mine security guards, some miners and about two police officers were killed during the initial confrontation preceding the massacre. The pictures of the bodies of the murdered police officers where circulated among all the police officers in the country.

Events that unfolded at Marikana appear to mirror those that happened at Ipperwash in 1995, in the Province of Ontario in Canada, which led to an inquiry led by Honourable Sidney B. Linden, although in the Ipperwash case only one person had been killed. Linden was highly critical of comments from politicians which created the rimsk of placing political pressure on the police irrespective of the context in which they were made. It was a case in which politicians inappropriately directed the police on their operations and/or entered the law enforcement domain of the police. Police-community relations in heterogeneous societies with a history of racism and settler colonialism are invariably the same – from Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to the United States of America. One would have expected the new leaders in this country to have taken that aspect into consideration.

The police should not have met with or taken orders from Ministers. Discussions about the manner in which the government would address the Marikana miners’ strike and the politicians’ view of the strike should not have been shared with the police, in this case Phiyega and Mbombo. This was outside the proper reporting system and communication channels. The appropriate buffers were not in place. Phiyega and Mbombo were privy to the critical emails from Ramaphosa as well as pressure from Nathi Mthethwa and Susan Shabangu. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that Mbombo was in direct contact with the police commander at Marikana during the strike. There was a danger in these circumstances, both with the transmission of information from politicians and government to the police and with the transmission of police information to the politicians. There were no minutes of meetings held or they disappeared. Transparency is important in order to promote accountability and public confidence in police-government relations. The meetings held by the police and Ministers were lacking in transparency. There is suspicion and uncertainty as to what happened in those meetings which is a violation of international best practice. There was no transparency in government decision making which includes a record of decisions made. The government stepped into the law enforcement domain of the police which is a violation of international best practice.

The meeting of politicians and the haste with which the government wanted to end the strike, created an atmosphere that unduly narrowed the scope of the government’s response to the miners’ strike. The government representatives sought a quick resolution thereby blocking many options endorsed by other interested parties, including the process of negotiations, appointment of mediators and opening up communications with striking miners. They narrow approach to the strike did not enable the situation to stabilize at Marikana. Mbombo made it clear she wanted the strike to end on the 16 August 2012, the day of the shooting and killing of 34 miners occurred.

The police must be aware of the separation between the police operations and the government. To promote the objectives of transparency and accountability, there ought to be a written record or a recording of the conversations that took place. The fundamental conflict is about the socio-economic conditions of Africans in South Africa (only Africans were killed during this strike). Contemporary strikes and protests should therefore be seen as part of the centuries-old tension between indigenous people and non-indigenous people over the control, use and ownership of resources and land as well as against capitalist exploitation.

The government should share the blame of the Marikana massacre. Emphasis should not be placed only on the culpability of some individuals, as some political parties seem to be doing, but also on the government on whose behalf the police were acting.

By Sam Ditshego
The writer is a fellow at the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI).