In its first months of hearings, the Farlam Commission has shown us clear evidence of a bungled police cover up of a massacre, the National Union of Mineworkers’ (NUM) own attempt to hide its role, and an alarming level of complicity between state and capital.
The evidence suggests that the violence started on August 11 with NUM members opening fire on a column of miners marching to their offices to demand the union take up their demands for better wages, allegedly killing two workers. In the days that followed, eight more people died, including a security guard and two police officers – and then came the massacre in which 34 miners were gunned down by police.
London-based criminal lawyer Jim Nichol works in an advisory capacity to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union. He says Amcu’s legal team intends to prove that police acted criminally.
‘This is one big crime. It’s not self-defence if you see a man with ten bullets in his body. Or when you see a man shot in the back,’ says Nichol.
Amcu’s legal team represents the families of the deceased at the commission. Another legal team, headed by Dali Mpofu of Julius Malema related fame, represents about 275 Lonmin mineworkers who were arrested and injured on August 16 when police chased them off a field adjacent to the mine in Marikana where they were protesting.
Nichol is a criminal lawyer who says Amcu’s team intends to prove that police acted criminally.
‘It is shocking what happened. There were a large number of officers carrying R5 rifles. I know that a R5 rifle fires at a rate of 50 rounds per second. That is not a public order weapon,’ says Nichol.
‘You cannot control the public by firing at 50 rounds per second. The standard of policing was utterly abysmal. Everything went wrong. It’s fallen below all acceptable standards.’
‘The police captain who was showing us around showed us to a point which the police officer was killed. It was marked by a cross. He then showed us some distance away to where another police officer was injured and then taken to hospital where he died. And he showed us a little distance away where a striker had been killed. It’s in a flat area,’ says Nichol.
‘He then pointed out in this area that there were spent cartridge cases from R5s, spent shotgun cases, rubber bullets, tear gas and stun grenades. It’s not difficult to draw conclusions as to how people got killed. How can you have all these weapons discharged? Nichol says the worst scene was when a police captain took the legal team to the place where one of the workers was killed. ‘The land went down to a small river. It was three metres wide and 25 centimetres deep. This mineworker was killed on the other side of the river. He had crossed the river and was climbing up a hill. The person telling us about this says just ten meters before you come the river there are spent cartridge cases. On the other side of the river is a dead body,’ he says.
‘This guy was shot in the head. He was pursued by a police officer who waited for his chance to shoot him.’Nichol says that Lonmin should pay compensation to the families whose relatives were shot by police.
‘The families are destitute. If Lonmin had a heart, they would pay the families the salaries that the deceased mineworkers would have earned for six months,’ he told Amandla!.
‘One of the important aspects for us at the commission would be to determine who decided this and what did they decide. I think this decision was taken two or three days before August 16.
‘Someone decided that they would clear the mountain and use force. We want to prove that was a decision taken by the national police commissioner. We’ll never prove it though. It goes back as far as President Jacob Zuma. I think we will prove that it goes to the minister of mines.’
Amcu’s opponents have so far attempted to blame this small independent union for the strike.
‘Amcu asserts that this was not their strike,’ Nichol says. ‘It’s an independent worker’s strike. Amcu has a legal team that needs to look at the union’s role or lack of it in the strike. Others will ask whether Amcu used its best endeavours to resolve this strike and whether that could have stopped the deaths.’
He is working with Amcu’s legal team at no cost – out of political principle.
‘When a small union is being crucified by the government, the employers and the biggest union (National Union of Mineworkers) then your antennae go up,’ he says.
He believes that Amcu is needed to ensure a space remains for democratic, independent, workers’ activity.
‘If this union is crushed, then it is a sad day for people who work underground.’ But he adds that Amcu, NUM and other unions need to unite. ‘They have to find a way to work together, otherwise the employers will take advantage of their divisions.’
Workers who were left injured had meanwhile taken Mpofu and his legal team
The commission will listen to all sides while it tries to unpack the killings of mineworkers on August 16. Discrepancies of that fatal day’s operation have already surfaced: clear evidence has emerged of police manipulating the scene of the massacre; placing weapons in the hands of workers and conveniently losing footage of the massacre. So far, the proceedings of the Farlam commission if nothing else appear to back this account up, despite the attempts of NUM, the police and the state to bury the real story of the massacre in a mountain of obfuscation and mendacity. The Farlam Commission if nothing else, at least will air some of the dirty laundry of those responsible for the worst act of state repression since 1994.