SARANEL BENJAMIN writes on the fifth anniversary of the massacre and the fight for justice
THIS August marks the fifth anniversary of the Marikana mining massacre.
During the month of August in 2012, 37 miners were killed — 34 were shot down by the South African police on a single day.
The miners were demanding that British mining company Lonmin pay them a living wage.
That day — August 16 2012 — shook South Africa’s fragile, new democracy to the core. In as much as the massacre was traumatic for the country and the community of Marikana, what followed was shocking.
Despite police investigations and a public commission of inquiry conducted by the state, no-one has been held accountable for the killings. Noone has been brought to justice.
As a result, no reparations have been paid to the families of the dead miners. No public apology has been issued. No trauma counselling has been offered to the community of Marikana.
In fact, if it were not for community organisations like Sikhala Sonke and other non-governmental organisations and the independent trade union, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, Marikana would be long forgotten.
Sikhala Sonke, which means “we cry together,” was formed by the women of Marikana. Some members are the widows of the miners. Others that joined are angry that nothing has changed in Marikana over the last five years.
In order to get the rights to mine for platinum in Marikana, Lonmin was required by law to submit a Social Labour Plan which outlines its plan to develop the community of Marikana.
In the plan, Lonmin promises to build 5,500 houses for the miners and their families and transform the hostels into family units.
However, in the last 11 years that Lonmin has been operating the mine, only three houses have been built and only 50 per cent of the hostels have been converted.
The people of Marikana are living in shacks with no water and electricity. Water has to be fetched from stand pipes that are far away from the homes. The burden of fetching the water falls on the women of Marikana.
The community do not have access to flush toilets and are forced to use pit latrines, with only a few available to the 33,000 people living in the area.
This situation of absolute poverty exists in parallel to a wealthy mining company that has shown increasing revenue over the years.
Lonmin’s revenue increased from £1.3 billion to £1.7bn between 2006 and 2008.
In addition, in 2007 the International Finance Corporation (IFC) invested £11.6 million in Lonmin to improve the social conditions around the mine.
The women of Sikhala Sonke are the only ones that have forced Lonmin to the negotiating table. They have raised the fact that.
Lonmin has failed to comply with its obligations of developing the local community.
Lonmin has met with the women of Sikhala Sonke just twice since 2015. At the meetings they did not want to engage with the core concerns of housing and access to basic services but focused on secondary issues such as counselling.
In November 2016, Sikhala Sonke pulled out of negotiating with Lonmin because nothing was happening, nothing was changing in the community.
Primrose Sonti and Thumeka Magwanqgane from Sikhala Sonke are here in London to remind us that Marikana remains unresolved. They have brought their fight against Lonmin to its door here in London.
Sonti has said: “I am visiting London to fight for what was promised to the Lonmin mine workers, but nothing has happened since the massacre.
“The living conditions of the Marikana community have not improved since the Marikana massacre, in fact it’s gotten worse.
“We demand justice for all those killed by the government and Lonmin collusion, and compensation for the widows.
“Our hope is that this trip will bring these demands to Lonmin’s door so that they can be heard and implemented. We are looking for a better life as the Marikana community.”
Today, on the fifth anniversary of the massacre, Sonti and Magwanqgane will be protesting outside Lonmin’s London headquarters and outside the South African embassy.
Please join them to lend them your support and to show your solidarity.
Let us tell Lonmin and the South African government that the women of Marikana will not let the massacre be forgotten; that the women of Marikana are not alone.
Saranel Benjamin is international programmes director for War on Want.
The protest will be held between 1pm to 2pm outside Lonmin’s headquarters, 13 Mount Street, London, W1K 2SQ. War on Want will be hosting a screening of the documentary Strike a Rock about two women activists and their struggle for justice. For more information visit mstar.link/StrikeaRock.