Marikana widows carry candles at an event commemorating the killing of 34 Lonmin mine workers. File Picture: SUNDAY TIMES
Marikana widows carry candles at an event commemorating the killing of 34 Lonmin mine workers. File Picture: SUNDAY TIMES

Mzukisi Sompeta was shot dead by the police at Marikana on August 16 2012. His mother, Mabhengu Sompeta, says that they also killed her husband, who died elsewhere two weeks after she had buried Mzukisi.

Several years ago she expressed anger at the state’s failure to apologise or show remorse, telling a journalist: "With [President Jacob] Zuma, he didn’t respond to the families of Marikana and he didn’t come to listen to us. He didn’t apologise or show remorse for what his police did, just like his commissioner [Riah Phiyega]."

Today, on human rights day, the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (Seri) is launching a video, Time to Bring the Truth Home, capturing the experiences of the survivor’s families and their communities.

In the video, the victim’s families, like Sompeta, express outrage at their loss and the state’s failure to apologise for the massacre. The short for the video is fittingly titled Time for an Apology.

"August 16 reminds me of June 16," says Anele, a friend of Thabiso Mosebetsane, one of the deceased in the Marikana massacre. "It was like a dream, maybe a nightmare, this failure by government and Lonmin".

Anele’s statement, made to a journalist years ago, still resonates with many of the victims families and communities. He is not the only one who has compared the Marikana massacre to the Soweto uprising or the Sharpeville massacre.

The parallels with Sharpeville are particularly stark. On March 21 at Sharpeville police station 57 years ago, 300 armed police officers faced a crowd of approximately 5,000 people, most of whom were members of the Pan Africanist Congress, then led by the still-revered Robert Sobukwe. In a matter of minutes, 69 people were killed and a further 180 seriously wounded.

Sharpeville happened in a different time and under the apartheid regime, which has gone down in history as an atrocity and a crime against humanity. "Never, never and never again" said Nelson Mandela reflecting on the apartheid regime’s many sins against black South Africans including the Sharpeville massacre.

It is now commemorated as Human Rights Day, the day on which democratic SA’s world-renowned bill of rights, which promises much but has not yet fully realised its visions and potential, is paraded proudly throughout the country.

To the dismay of many who entered into SA’s new constitutional regime with optimism and idealism, the "new SA" has shown that despite its many marked improvements, it too has facilitated and allowed the oppression of poor black people to continue.

Worse still this SA — despite the "never again Constitution" and in addition to the violence of ongoing poverty, unemployment and inequality — produced its own massacre at the hands of the police.

In August 2012, heavily armed police officers opened fire on striking mineworkers at Marikana. The result was that 44 people were killed, 78 wounded and a further 250 arrested.

Most of the miners worked for meagre wages for Lonmin Platinum. Although the Marikana massacre is already memorialised throughout the world as a great human tragedy, neither Lonmin nor the state has yet to fully acknowledge and take responsibility for their roles in perpetrating the massacre.

The comrades, colleagues and families of the Marikana massacre victims are still waiting for any semblance of justice.

Not a single police officer or official has been criminally charged or prosecuted. None of the families have received civil compensation despite ongoing negotiations between their lawyers and the state.

Most shamefully, neither the state nor Lonmin is yet to apologise — formally or informally — to them.

Though a state apology without criminal prosecution and civil compensation might have a hollow ring, an apology remains important to victims and at the forefront of their minds.

The families of the slain workers specifically asked that Seri explain the detailed and complicated report of the Farlam commission and provide the thousands of people who continue to be devastated by the absence of the deceased a chance to voice their own views about what happened.

Though compensation is important, and many families of the deceased are living in intense poverty as a result of the loss of support of the deceased mineworkers, time and again communities demanded that state should apologise and acknowledge the cold-blooded murders of their friends, family, sons, and fathers: their loved ones.

They could not understand why this was such a difficult thing to do, given that there was clear video evidence on record that their defenceless loved ones had been shot and killed by the police.

That a liberation government, whose members were part of a broader resistance movement who had witnessed the violence in tragedies like the Sharpeville massacre and the Soweto uprising, could not understand the need for such an apology without it being requested angered many.

How could a government, whose history and values they used to share, not understand what it meant for them to be respected and treated with dignity?

The message from the victims and their communities was clear. Criminal prosecution and civil compensation, though necessary, were not enough. A genuine apology was a necessary part of the healing process and essential for the victims to rest in peace.

A genuine apology was also necessary because there are some long-lasting harms to the cultural fabric of their communities that compensation and criminal prosecution simply cannot fix.

For example, many of these communities have long, complicated and critical relationships of dependency with mines such as Lonmin. Many relied on mining work as a source of income to alleviate their harsh living conditions for generations.

After Marikana, many no longer see this as an option because there is now a perception that mines are places where you can be killed if you cause trouble for your employers by demanding living wages.

One young man who had been working on a mine in Welkom was forced by his parents to resign out of fear for his life directly after the Marikana massacre. If the choice was between going hungry and being killed in the mines, his family, like many others, indicated that they would prefer to suffer their poverty alive.

This man and his family will receive no solace or financial benefit from the compensation of deceased workers or the criminal prosecution of the officers who perpetrated the massacre because he was not directly involved in working for Lonmin, nor was he even in the vicinity when the massacre took place.

Yet, in many ways, the police’s guns in Marikana were aimed at them too and had as much of an effect on their livelihood.

Those who, out of desperation, continue to send their loved ones to work in mines live in constant fear of their death. Many indicated that they now perform a traditional ritual referred to as Qinisa each and every time their loved ones return to the mines to protect them from harm. Before the massacre this ritual would only be performed by some and only on some occasions.

Despite the tough conditions faced on the mines, some positive cultures and social practices had developed between migrant mineworkers and their home communities, which have also been interrupted.

Even in the face of inadequate pay, and with the difficulties of their loved ones being away from home for long periods each year, many people spoke about the joy and pride brought to a family by having a relative working on the mines and bringing home an income.

Community members spoke fondly of times such as the Christmas holidays when mineworkers would return home safely and shower their family, friends and neighbours with affection, even spending their money on ceremonies in the community. Some neighbours and friends explained that mineworkers would bring them gifts like soccer boots and dance outfits.

The Marikana massacre has crept into every village and township in the country and will have a lasting effect on people’s psyche and their thinking about mines, the police and the state. There already several informal settlements and movements named Marikana in solidarity with the victims.

The massacre has also broken, and will continue to break and bend, complex social cultures in a sudden, painful and inorganic way. Mineworkers were not only breadwinners for their families but often pillars of strength or crucial cogs in their communities. Their loss is felt deeply and widely.

As we commemorate the Sharpeville massacre and its victims, we remember the Marikana massacre and its litany of victims.

It is time for Lonmin and the state to apologise publicly for the Marikana massacre. Any less would be a failure to acknowledge the depth of the harms that have been caused under their watch. Any less would be cheapening the mineworkers and their loved ones’ constitutional rights to human dignity and to be treated with care and concern.

It’s time for an apology.

Mtshiyo is a candidate attorney, and Fish Hodgson a senior researcher, at Seri.

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