The slayings grow more sinister | by Ronnie Kasrils

by Sep 13, 2012Magazine

slayings-grow-more-sinisterOur initial horror and outrage does not subside but deepens. Evidence is emerging of a web of possible vengeance and extra-judicial executions. These point to a scenario as sinister and chilling as anything from our horrific colonial-apartheid history.

Our gut reaction that this was not some Rorke’s Drift style defensive action by police, but part of a deliberate punitive deployment, is being compounded almost on a daily basis. I refer to such documentation as the Benchmark NGO monitoring; “The Daily Maverick” account of “The Slaying Fields” (30th Aug); “The Star” (27th Aug) leaks of autopsy results; bizarre murder charges brought against the 270 detained striking miners for the deaths of their comrades. on the Marikana Hill called Wonderkop. Methinks something in the state of our country is extremely fishy and reprehensible, which must be exposed and cannot be tolerated.

On 16 August an order was given to deploy almost 500 police armed with automatic weapons, reinforced by armoured vehicles, horsemen and helicopters; they advanced on a desolate hill where 3000 striking miners were encamped. That denoted an order from on high with a determination to carry out a dangerous and dubious operation to clear an isolated, stony outcrop of desperate strikers armed with the sticks and spears often referred to as “cultural” weapons in our country. These strikers were hardly occupying some strategic point, some vital highway, a key city square. They were not holding hostages. They were not even occupying mining property.

Why risk such a manoeuvre other than to drive the strikers back to work at all costs on behalf of the bosses who were anxious to resume profit-making operations?

If by occupying that hill the strikers constituted a threat to other workers, officials or rival unionists, then a feasible solution could only be through reasonable, patient negotiations and remedies, no matter the timeline — not a deployment of state force that could only end in the dreadful manner witnessed: 34 strikers dead, 76 wounded, their families devastated.

The police manoeuvre was akin to poking a hornet’s nest with a stick. What mind-set was behind the police intention?

Who set the agenda? What was the government’s hand in this? This cannot be kept secret, or can it?

First it was our new national police commissioner who told the nation: “This is not the time to point fingers.”

Our president reiterated the call, word for word, soon thereafter. He naturally announced that an independent judicial inquiry would be appointed. The usual recourse of government’s the world over: shelve the pressing need to take immediate action such as apologising and ensuring that those in charge resign with immediate effect. Above all avoid explanation and hold one’s tongue rather than give leadership. And of course judicial inquiries look at legalities and so often when the report is finally delivered are biased in favour of established order. Minister Collins Chabane, presiding over an inter-ministerial committee sent to attend to burials and commiserate with the survivors and families, repeated the refrain “we must not point fingers”. It seems the national police commissioner had set the politician’s agenda. We dare ask: is this not a recipe for avoiding accountability and just plain stalling until the hue and cry dies down?

We have heard much about the illegality of the strike and the panga-wielding strikers who, it is alleged, used muti and brought the disaster on themselves, a clear-cut case of blaming the victims, victims who are among the most exploited of our workforce and who labour under the most dangerous and dreadful conditions — truly the wretched of the earth. By the way the muti reference in a society where traditioinal belief systems and superstitions has been allowed to freely gain ground is particularly sad.

The President hints that there is much that lies behind this incident. Who knows what is implied? Sounds like the stuff of plots and conspiracy.

Watch this space and do not be surprised at the way blame will shift.

Of course, much lies behind the catastrophe: chiefly the exploitative mine owners and the horrendous conditions under which our country allows mineworkers to toil and their communities to fester. Add to the mix trade-union rivalry, demagoguery and intimidation, and previous killings. Yes ten died the week before the 16th August massacre: six miners, two security guards and two policemen. The reference to the latter is how gruesomely they were hacked to death. Was this the reason why the police sought vengeance? I have heard fellow comrades and former colleagues, including trade unionists, blaming the strikers. My knowledge of trade union struggles and worker strikes the world over is of the killing of scabs and agents out of desperate struggles to survive. Not pretty but let us not be hypocritical in this case. It is from The Daily Maverick (Aug 30th) that we learn of the circumstances in which a group of miners fought their way out of a police ambush on Aug 13th in which the two policemen died as well as two miners. An event the report links to the police intention to punish the strikers.

Then there is as ever the clear, arrogant, mean culpability of mine owners and management, disputes about pay and conditions, victimisation and dismissals. Their cynical role must be exposed but whatever manner of cause and effect may be discerned, there is no escaping where the finger needs to point in the here and now.

And that is right at the trigger fingers responsible for mowing people down as at a duck shoot. For if we do not point at those who pulled the triggers and who issued the orders, and behind them whoever quite possibly gave the nod of approval, then we allow the whole bloody event to be diverted and bogged down by the bigger, overwhelming picture. Yes, we can and must deal with this bigger picture because ultimate responsibility lies with our whole exploitative system, but there is time and scope for that. I say let us get to the immediate truth which is not as complicated as the police, mining houses, government and some sections of the media would have us believe? We dare not allow the reality of the ghastly killings to be disguised and demobilise a gathering energy of the outraged.

Let us not do what the forces of apartheid automatically did in the past and hide the truth about state violence. Let us not create a fog of war around this massacre and declare that fingers must not be pointed, because in effect what that implies is that we shall not point to where responsibility lies.

If we do not point fingers at the right targets, the politicians — who bear executive authority for those who may have given some kind of green light, or by dereliction of responsibility left the police to their own devices — will go unscathed.

We are asked to put our faith in a judicial commission and let the dust settle. Nice, sober talk. But in a democracy that has sworn to make such massacres a thing of the past we need to cry out in the name of humanity and justice and demand full transparency and accountability.

If by default we fail to hold our police system and government accountable for the systemic brutality – actually what is beginning to look like a cold-blooded premeditated execution – we run massive risks, detrimental to our very security and democratic freedoms.

A national crisis like this requires frank talk by all concerned South Africans. We need to mobilise and demonstrate solidarity with the victims. Our history reverberates with the words: Do not blame the victims!

Marikana is undoubtedly a turning point in our history. If we fail to act decisively, we do so at our peril and we leave the space to the demagogues. If, as a young democracy we are to emerge stronger and better we need the truth and we need to spare nobody’s position or reputation. Above all we need a new deal for our mineworkers and we need a system based on economic justice for the poor of our land. We need a political leadership not distracted by holding on to their positions at all costs, but one focused night and day on urgently solving our people’s problems and serving their needs. We can achieve that but only by concerted efforts and mass pressure on the powers that be.

There needs to be an inquiry by a commission set up by workers and trade unionists – and that needs to probe in the first instance the shootings and where full responsibility lies. I stress again the need to focus on the shootings. This will not let all the other role players off the hook. The mine bosses, union rivalry, the wider economic issues, all need to be examined but we must in the immediate period focus on the shootings themselves. Some are making the search for the truth sound like a mammoth exercise. This runs the risk of sidelining police and government responsibility. Already the police have stated that the weakness of public order policing goes back to 1994. They are shifting their culpability to democratic change. They will be assisted by serving politicians eager to allocate blame to the pre-Polokwane Mandela-Mbeki administrations. Yes, there surely is a case for the 1994 compromises on the economy coming back to bite us and that must also be examined. But the statement is a cynical ploy to exonerate the police. Is the truth really as complicated and diverse as some would have us believe – disguising the reality of the very massacre? What has happened stems from deliberate police planning, decisions and orders.

We need to demonstrate in solidarity with the victims, their families, those on trial.

We should collect funds on a vast scale to assist the victims, their families, their children.

We need to demand compensation for those killed and injured. All strikers must be given their jobs back.

We expect the working class of our country to unite behind the victims, the dead, injured, striking workers and their families – and we expect this from all our citizens who believe in truth and justice.

We must not leave an inquiry to the judicial commission alone but encourage investigative journalism and monitoring groups to help get to the bottom of the crime.

Ronnie Kasrils is an author, activist and former ANC government minister

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