Miners gathered at Lonmin's Marikana mine. Picture: MARTIN RHODES
Miners gathered at Lonmin's Marikana mine. Picture: MARTIN RHODES

The more things change the more they stay the same.

As the country observes the seventh anniversary of the Marikana massacre on Friday, it is reminded of the horrifying events of August 16, 2012.

In the darkest day of post-apartheid SA, 34 striking mineworkers were killed in a hail of police gunfire, with another 78 seriously injured. 

Although thought to be a seminal event in SA’s history, it’s hard to pinpoint any drastic steps which have been taken to ensure another Marikana-type calamity can never happen again.

To date, not one gun-wielding police officer, nor senior official, has been put behind bars. Injured workers, many of whose lives have changed forever, are yet to be compensated. Notably, the government still refuses to acknowledge the massacre as such, opting to rather call it the “Marikana tragedy”.

There have been some strides however.

The National Prosecuting Authority has charged some police officials, as well as striking mineworkers, for crimes, although these cases pertain to events leading up to the 16th and not the massacre itself. 

Companies like Lonmin have sought to enhance training and capabilities around security, peacekeeping and intelligence. 

The SA Police Service says its made significant progress in the implementation of the commission that was set up in the wake of the massacre, in areas of manpower, training and equipment.

Public order policing units, which were marginalised during the calamitous operation that day, have been somewhat reinvigorated. Certainly, police have since displayed better crowd management in cases like Fees Must Fall and, more recently, during attacks on police vehicles by disgruntled vendors in the Johannesburg city centre. 

The emergence of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) on the platinum belt and in some gold mines has raised the bar for basic wages in the sector. But many key issues remain. 

The demilitarisation and professionalisation of the police is yet to happen, despite that being recommended by the National Planning Commission (when President Cyril Ramaphosa served as its deputy chair), as well as by the Marikana commission of inquiry.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate, the body responsible for holding the police to account for the use of lethal force, remains inundated and woefully under-resourced. 

The department of mineral resources remains either unable or unwilling to ensure that mining companies fully comply with obligations to communities as set out in their social and labour plans.

Lonmin’s failure to deliver on 5,500 houses was found to have contributed to tensions in the area prior to the massacre.

Amcu president Joseph Mathujwa this week used an opening offer to increase entry-level wages by R300 a month for a year at Lonmin — which was acquired by Sibanye-Stillwater in June and now known as its Marikana operations — as a sign that the attitude of companies toward worker demands and wage negotiations had changed little in the past seven years. 

Other platinum miners have offered more. Anglo American Platinum, which is in good health after a restructuring that involved selling off its loss-making Rustenburg mine, has made the best offer thus far, proposing a R1,000 bump.

Sibanye-Stillwater says its substantially lower offer is reflective of the operation and financial challenges facing the Marikana business. Amcu, meanwhile, has said that the offer is so low, that the union views it as a provocation to strike. 

A recent and prolonged strike borne out of stalled wage talks in the gold sector between the same players — Amcu and Sibanye — claimed at least nine lives. 

The threat of a strike, especially in platinum and particularly at the Lonmin operations, cannot be taken lightly. As platinum wage talks begin to hot up and attitudes begin to harden, the spectre of the Marikana massacre endures. 

Employers and labour alike would do well to resist playing the tired blame game, and do whatever is in their power to avoid further bloodshed.

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