Out of sight, out of mind: Britain’s role in the Marikana miner’s massacre

In August 2012, 34 striking South African miners working for British-owned Lonmin were shot down by police in military gear. Nobody has been held responsible.  


“We are committed to zero harm to people and the environment” - Lonmin


On the 9th of August 2012, around 3000 miners went on strike at the Lonmin Platinum Mine in Marikana, South Africa, roughly an hour’s drive from the state capital - Pretoria. The miners were demanding wage increases that would amount to a living wage, from R4,500 per month (£248) to R12,500 (£690). The protest was deemed a ‘wildcat strike’ meaning that it didn’t have support from union leaders. On the 10th of August, the group approached the office of the National Miners Union (NMU) demanding strike authorisation and support. Instead of empty promises from faceless representatives, they were met by local police and bullets and were gunned down - killing 2 miners. This tragic incident further exacerbated an already volatile situation.

During the following days, at least 4 miners and 2 security guards died in the violent aftermath. On the 13th of August, 30 miners from the Marikana Lonmin Mine were delegated to unify with miners at the Karee Lonmin Mine, just 5km away, who were also striking for wage increases. However, before they reached them, they were intercepted by military vans and police trucks which began to open fire rubber bullets and live ammunition, killing 2 miners and 2 police officers.

The strike continued into the following days, still with no support from union leaders and no impetuous for communication or official statement from Lonmin. The strike was to protest poor living and working conditions of the miners and their families in Marikana. Neither the union, nor Lonmin addressed these concerns during the protests. Instead, many miners lost their jobs, and protestors were consistently met with relentless intimidation by security forces, police, the union and Lonmin management.

Then on the 14th of August, the Lonmin Mine at Marikana officially stopped production. Protests continued and on the 16th of August, more than 400 police officers, dressed in camouflage military gear were deployed, armed with assault rifles with military police vehicles and helicopters skirting the scene. Despite police statements stating they were acting in self-defense, witness reports say the police were not in any real danger. That day 34 miners were shot, many in the back, and a further 78 were severely injured, with not one policeman sustaining harm.


Source: www.sahistory.org.za


The Marikana Commission for Inquiry was set up in order investigate the massacre. The process began in October 2012 and held its final meeting in March 2015. The report did not require any of the parties involved to accept responsibility and instead absolved key political figures who were accused of playing key roles in the events leading up to the tragic slaughter of the 34 miners. These figures included Deputy State President Cyril Ramaphosa who, at the time, was non-executive director at Lonmin, former Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, former Mineral Resource Minister Susan Shabangu and the National Police Commissioner Ria Phieyga. The Commission did find that Lonmin failed to communicate with its workers and the trade unions were found to have lost control of its members who engaged in an unprotected ‘wildcat strike’.

“We are committed, ethical people who do what we say we will do” - Lonmin

For a mining company to be granted permission to operate in South Africa, they must design, commit to and implement social and labour plans (SLPs). These contain principal measures that must be taken by mining companies to address the socio-economic conditions of mineworkers and communities. SLPs are legally binding and if a company is found to be in breach of their SLPs, the government has the right to halt production and retract the mining permit. Stated in 2006, Lonmin’s SLPs in Marikana were (1) to provide water and sanitation, (2) to provide 5,500 homes for mine workers and their communities over a 5-year period and convert employee hostels into family homes (3) to implement an educational support and upliftment program which involves capacity building, upgrading of infrastructure and the provision of technical education resources at 29 schools, and (4) to build a brick making factory from which bricks would be purchased for the 5,500 houses.

However, in 2017, 11 years after the SLP commitments had been made, only 1,000 pit latrines have been built. The brick building project was found to be unfeasible because only three of the promised 5,500 houses were built, meaning there was no demand for bricks, though the conversion of all its employee hostels into 1,908 single and 776 family units was completed in 2014.

It is against this back drop of false promises that the miners took to the gravel to fight for their humanity. Risking their lives daily, spending their existence underground in stifling heat, in darkness, eroding the earth because all other means of living had been taken away: only to come to the surface at the end of an arduous day to be met by the sun that shines a light on their choice-less indignity. The vast majority of Marikana’s 36,000 miners lived – and to this day, still live – in informal shack dwellings without electricity, sanitation or running water. Most are not able to maintain even basic levels of nutrition with much of the community surviving on food parcels - manual labour exerted on tired bodies and empty stomachs. When such conditions are left unaddressed for so long, it’s no wonder that injustice was deeply felt by the miners and their communities and the breaking point was reached.

Shacks housing some of Lonmin’s miners // Source: Independent Online (IOL)


During the testimony of South African vice president Cyril Ramaphosa’s (formerly shareholder and non-executive director of Lonmin) at the Marikana Commission, he maintained that “These types of projects (SLPs) faced a number of challenges and restraints and financial resources was one of them.” However, legal advocate for the miners - Thembeka Ngcukaitobi pointed out that it was only between 2008 and 2009 that Lonmin experienced a drop in their revenue. Before and after this time period the company saw a growth in revenue. It is important to note also in 2009, the Chief Executive Officer of Lonmin, Ian P. Farmer earned a total of £565,528 and Alan Ferguson, Chief Financial Officer earned £788,844 (1143% more than the miners were asking for and 3180% more than what they were being paid).

“We enhance the quality of life for our employees and their families and promote their well-being and self-esteem” - Lonmin

If you were to watch any news channel in South Africa at the time of the massacre, the white faces of Lonmin were nowhere to be seen, passing the hot potato of responsibility onto the next human cog in the mining machine: because who wants to believe that they had played a role in the innocent killing of 34 men? The power embedded in corporations is illusive and so, when power is exercised and the results are fatal, it’s difficult to identify those responsible and justice turns into myth.

‘Lonmin’, formerly the mining division of Lonrho plc, is a British-owned platinum producing mining company founded in 1909, formerly known as ‘The London and Rhodesian Mining and Land Company Limited’. Early on in the company’s establishment, and part of the aggressive colonial machine, extraction from South African soil was assumed and the wealth that was amassed from such dirty work lined the pockets of rich, white Londoners in top hats. Meanwhile, its workers existed in abhorrent conditions thousands of miles away. Not much has changed. Lonmin’s history has been intimately nestled within the fabric of British colonialism since its creation. More recently, in 1972, former Conservative minister Duncan Sandys became Lonrho’s Chairman and Princess Alexandra (Queen Elizabeth’s cousin) married a Lonrho director, Sir Angus Ogilvy. Then in, in 1981, Lonrho bought the British newspaper ‘The Observer’ and in 1986 bought the daily ‘Today’.


Princess Alexandra, with her brother, the Duke of Kent


Evidently, the British choose to look over their noses and fail to see the carnage happening below their eye line. Though official colonisation of South Africa by the British ended in 1960 and though apartheid ended in 1994, colonial legacy runs deep in the country’s roots, infiltrating its psyche with white power. In spite of this, in England, little is known about the massacre of the 34 miners at the Marikana site of British owned mining company ‘Lonmin’. The minimal coverage by the BBC and, to a large extent, most of the media coverage points the finger at the South African police. While there is no doubt that the miners were shot by South African fingers pulling South African triggers resulting in the biggest act of state murder in South Africa since the end of Apartheid, Lonmin has been slowly killing its employees and their families for decades, but slow violence isn’t worth the headline. Out of sight, out of mind: the outsourcing of violence has worked perfectly for the Lonmin benefactors, orchestrating their post-colonial strength while taking little responsibility for the lives of those whose blood has made them their fortunes.

“The communities in which we operate value our relationships” - Lonmin

In August 2016, the miner’s union (AMCU) signed a three-year wage deal with Lonmin which will increase miner’s wages by R1000 (£55) (which is marginally above the rate of inflation), every year for the next three years. But the value of the rand over the last year has fallen dramatically against most major global currencies, meaning that the purchasing power of mine workers has hardly shifted since 2012. Necessities like nutritious food, adequate housing and basic sanitation remain elusive to the company’s massive workforce.

To date, no arrests have been made, no fines given out, no apologies voiced and no justice served. In September this year, five years after the Marikana disaster, Lonmin was given a deadline by South African authorities to fix non-compliant parts of its social labour plan (SLP) again at Marikana or risk having its mining rights revoked. The Department of Mineral Resources issued a section notice to the company stating its failures in commitment to and deliverance of local development programs, community education and procurement.

Sikhale Sonke (We Cry Together) is a group that was set up by local women affected by the miner deaths in Marikana to fight for their deserved justice. The group lodged a complaint against Lonmin and the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation for failing to use a $50-million loan that was given to Lonmin to implement its social labour plan. Sikhale Sonke were in negotiation for two years to force Lonmin’s commitment to community challenges, like housing, water and sanitation but the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) claimed that Lonmin only wanted to discuss minor issues, like counselling and recycling. Due to Lonmin’s pathetic attempt at negotiation, Sikhale Sonke withdrew from mediation procedures, which means that the World Bank must now investigate complaints that Lonmin failed to implement the SLP objectives it was financed for. Though a necessary part of a justice strategy, social labour plans are not helping to overcome systemic inequality. Such deep unfairness calls for fundamental systemic change which would include a louder voice for communities that was listened to by all stakeholders, and a right for communities to reject mining on their land in the first place.


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