Today, 16 August 2022, marks the 10th anniversary of one of the deadliest episodes of violence in South Africa since the end of the Apartheid in 1994: the Marikana Massacre. In the early days of August 2012, workers of Lonmin Plc, a platinum mining company, staged an unprotected strike to demand a salary increase and protest against their poor living and working conditions. The mine did not provide adequate housing and many lived in informal settlements with no basic services. As the days passed, tensions escalated and 10 people were killed in clashes between the striking and non-striking workers, security guards and the police. Eventually, on the afternoon of 16 August, with no prior warning and no violence in the preceding 24 hours, the police opened fire with live ammunition on a crowd of hundreds of workers who had gathered on a small hill near the mine. Thirty-four miners were killed and 78 were injured.
An inquiry commissioned by the state established the company did not provide "sufficient safeguards and measures to ensure the safety of its employees" and that its "failure to deliver on its housing obligations created an environment conducive to the creation of tension". Furthermore, it "did not use its best endeavours to resolve a dispute", and had urged the state to respond to the protests as a criminal issue, rather than a labour issue. The company aggressively lobbied the state to, in the words of its CEO, "bring the full might of the state to bear on the situation". The current president of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa—then board member and shareholder at Lonmin—pressed for "concomitant action" against the "criminal" protesters.
The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) establish that companies, as part of their responsibility to respect human rights, should provide for or cooperate in the remediation of adverse impacts which they have caused or contributed to. Since 2012, Lonmin and its successor Sibanye-Stillwater have undertaken various initiatives to support the families of the 44 deceased. These initiatives included the provision of houses for widows, the establishment of a trust fund to support the education of orphaned children, and the provision of employment to relatives of those killed. The company also engaged in annual commemorations and constructed a memorial wall within company facilities bearing the names of the 44 victims.
Although these initiatives have provided some relief to victims, they have resulted in disputes, as well as re-victimisation for some. Promised houses were systematically delayed; policy to assign them was unclear, and many were built in places where families did not want to live. Others insisted the provision of employment was not acceptable as "even the work they gave us, we use our strength". The "Wall of Remembrance" was also controversial due to its form and location in an area where victims and their families could not freely access
Dr. Hugo van der Merwe is the Director of Research, Knowledge and Learning at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation. Since joining CSVR in 1997, he has developed and managed numerous research projects evaluating the work and impact of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission and managed various research, advocacy and intervention projects relating to transitional justice in South Africa and on the African continent.