Zuma's government pulls out of commemoration for mine killings
August 15th 2013
Xola Potelwa 2 hours ago
By Xola Potelwa
MARIKANA, South Africa (Reuters) - South Africa's ANC government pulled out at the last minute from a memorial ceremony marking the anniversary of the nation's bloodiest post-apartheid labour violence, drawing attention to the dominant party's loss of support among many mineworkers.
President Jacob Zuma's government had planned a unifying day of prayer and reflection to commemorate the killings by police last year of 34 striking platinum workers at Lonmin's Marikana mine. The deadliest incident of its kind since the 1994 end of white-minority rule, it shocked South Africans and the world.
But just hours before the planned commemoration went ahead on Friday at the mine northeast of Johannesburg, a government spokeswoman said no one from Zuma's government would appear. More than a dozen seats for cabinet ministers on the main stage were empty when ceremonies started.
Zuma, who faces an election next year, has come under fire from critics over the government's clumsy handling of what has come to be known as the "Marikana massacre", including questions over alleged police brutality.
The Marikana killings were among 60 deaths during a wave of illegal strikes and labour violence in the country's mines that started last year and spilled over into this year. The violence helped trigger credit downgrades for Africa's biggest economy and dented the image of the ANC government.
Zuma's ruling ANC said it would not participate in Friday's memorial because the event was being organised by a Marikana support group, which includes the hardline Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU).
"We are not participating in this activity," ANC spokesman Ishmael Mnisi told Reuters. "People are taking advantage of a tragedy for their own political benefit."
The labour union ally of Zuma's ANC, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), which has been displaced by the more hardline AMCU as the dominant union among miners in the area, said it was also staying away, for safety reasons.
"It's important that we commemorate those who lost their lives, but it is not necessary that we go and commemorate only to lose more lives. The possibility of losing further lives is great," NUM spokesman Lesiba Seshoka said.
The more radical AMCU accuses the ANC government and its NUM union allies of siding with mining bosses over the interests of workers fighting for better pay and conditions.
The two unions have been involved in a deadly war for members among South Africa's mineworkers, accusing each other of being behind killings of members over the past few months.
At Marikana, thousands of people, many of them wearing green AMCU T-shirts, gathered on and around the rocky outcrop dubbed by media the "Hill of Horror" where the strikers were killed last year, most falling in a hail of police gunfire.
Marikana worker Paulos Mpahlela, 60, expressed anger at the government and ANC's decision to stay away.
"We are hurt, the government should be here. They should have taken the trouble to come and be here because they're the leaders," he said.
The decision by the ruling party and government to stay away highlights the alienation of many of South Africa's poorest workers from the ANC, Nelson Mandela's liberation movement which has dominated South Africa since the end of apartheid.
The ANC is still expected to win elections easily next year, but increasingly suffers from accusations that it has become the party of the rich and powerful.
"What it shows is that the ANC, the NUM and the government have lost their legitimacy in that region which has become enemy territory. It is a unique situation when the NUM and ANC cannot appear somewhere," Cape Town-based political analyst Nic Borain told Reuters.
AMCU denies that its aggressive recruitment tactics are behind the unrest in South Africa's mines, which has injected added tension into the latest round of wage bargaining currently underway between mining companies and unions.
Attending the Marikana commemoration, AMCU president Joseph Mathunjwa called it a "sad day" that should not be used for political "electioneering".
The threat of an immediate fresh strike at Marikana was eased this week when Lonmin, the world's No. 3 platinum producer, signed a deal with AMCU recognising it as the majority union at its mine, although labour tension remains high.
A government commission of inquiry was due to conclude its investigation into the Marikana shootings by last December but proceedings stalled and lately were suspended because of lack of funding for lawyers representing the victims.
Rights group Amnesty International urged the government to ensure that inquiry was fully completed.
"There seems to be a critical lack of political will to ensure that the police and those responsible for the police fully account for their actions," Amnesty's Deputy Programme Director for Africa Noel Kututwa said in a statement.
Lonmin will not pay legal fees for miners
Lonmin human capital manager Abey Kgotle confirmed he had sent a letter to the Hola Bon Renaissance Foundation, which made the request, in this regard. He said no further comment would be made.
According to the letter the company notes the foundation's application and says it was duly considered.
It reads: "We certainly support you in the belief that it is right that all interested parties continue to have a voice at the commission.
"However, given the conflict inherent in Lonmin providing financial assistance to a party with whom it may be in opposition and the negative perceptions this could raise, we cannot accede to your requests."
The foundation sent the letter on July 25.
Following Lonmin's response on Tuesday, foundation project manager Lebogang Moima asked for a meeting to further discuss the reasoning behind the request.
Kgotle confirmed the meeting request and said it would be arranged, refusing to provide further details.
On August 10 last year, rock drillers at Lonmin's Marikana operations, outside Rustenburg in North West, embarked on an unprotected strike for a monthly salary of R12 500.
More workers joined the strike and the protesters gathered on a hill near the Nkaneng informal settlement, some carrying weapons such as pangas, spears, knobkerries, and iron rods.
Thirty-four workers were killed when police fired on them on August 16 while attempting to disperse and disarm them.
Ten people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed in strike-related unrest in the preceding week.
President Jacob Zuma established the Farlam Commission of Inquiry to investigate the deaths.
In June Dali Mpofu, for the wounded and arrested miners, told the commission that due to financial constraints his team could be forced to withdraw from the inquiry. He brought an urgent application in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria several weeks ago seeking state funding, but this was dismissed. Mpofu then took the state to the Constitutional Court, asking that it pay for his legal team.
The Constitutional Court was to have delivered judgment on Friday but postponed the ruling until Monday. The commission's proceedings have been postponed several times while solutions to the funding problems were sought. Government has so far spent about R6.7m on legal representation for police.
Moima said the foundation considered itself a mouthpiece for the disadvantaged and the request formed part of its advocacy responsibilities.
"We are hoping our meeting with Lonmin will just be progressive in a way that they will pay, even just partly. It's important that even Lonmin must show commitment...."
Uganda: University Closed Over Pay Demands