The 9th anniversary of the Marikana Massacre on 16 August 2021 remains a painful reminder of this event, and the unresolved apartheid legacies that contributed to the tragedy that unfolded. On this day in 2012, police killed 34 Lonmin mineworkers who had gathered at the Koppie near an informal settlement called Nkaneng. The mineworkers were on a strike demanding a salary of R12 000 and improvement of working and living conditions. In the days preceding the massacre, an additional ten people were killed as the conflict between workers, the mining company and the state escalated.
Since 2012 there have been numerous efforts to establish the truth, seek accountability and provide redress for these events, but this process remains fragmentary and unfinished. Initiatives from the state, from mining companies and by victims and their families, with the support of some NGOs have contributed to a clearer public record of events, and the provision of some limited reparations. Progress has however been slow and insufficient, and annual commemorative events repeatedly remind us that there is still no clear official public acknowledgement of responsibility, nor a commonly accepted narrative of these events.
The 2012 massacre – which is a dark event in the calendar of a democratic South Africa– is a stark reminder of the unresolved legacies of apartheid along with its deep inequalities and authoritarian policing culture. Despite extensive reforms in the mining sector and black economic empowerment provisions, the inequalities of the past have persisted.
Severe poverty and unemployment among mining affected communities along with low wages and lack of sufficient basic services create volatile working conditions. Even more so in a context of extreme inequality between rich and poor.
These problems persist despite a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that exposed the systematic nature of police human rights abuses and the complicity of corporate actors in apartheid's racial exploitation. Many of the recommendations of the TRC were ignored at great cost to our society.
We now need to ask whether the Marikana Massacre served as a wake-up call that has helped South Africa confront its toxic legacy. And have we developed more effective ways to address human rights violations when they occur. The answer is not simply yes or no. The nine years since the Massacre has seen some positive developments, but also leaves huge gaps regarding what still needs to be done.
Positive developments should be acknowledged. The Farlam commission was able to uncover important facts and clarify responsibility of certain state and corporate actors for the events that led to the massacre. The mining company has provided substantial support to families of those who were killed in the form of houses bursaries and jobs. Development initiatives in Marikana have started to deliver tangible benefits to the community.
Justice for victims and survivors of the massacre has been a painfully slow process. Both criminal and civil proceedings continue to drag on, leaving many families in a desperate situation and deeply mistrustful of the state's slow pace in addressing this wound.
There has been no apology from the State President who played a direct role in the events that led to the massacre. Neither has there been an apology from the Minister of Police, despite the millions that have already been paid out in settlements with victims. The state and the ANC still needs to confront its own failure and acknowledge its role in these events. The fact that there has been no state initiative to memorialise the Massacre through an official memorial ceremony, or construction of a monument or museum that honours the lives of those who died remains deeply troubling.
Reform of the police is also an unfished task, where the failure to effectively transform the culture of militarization and impunity is so clearly still visible in the failure to finalise prosecutions for the Massacre and the subsequent incidents of police killings that peaked again during the Covid-19 lockdown.
The community of Marikana remains deeply traumatized, and relationships within the community and between the community, the state and the mining company remain fragmented. Initiatives by the mining company to rebuild relationships and bolster the local economy fights an uphill battle in a context where the retrenchments of mineworkers in 2019 served to deepen mistrust and where access to basic services and decent housing remain a serious problem.
Since 2012, CSVR has been working with the community of Marikana through providing training to a group of Community Psychosocial Supporters, enabling this group members to facilitate healing in their community. The group has also provided emotional support to family members of victims of the Massacre as well as victims of other forms of violence that still plagues the community. Additionally, the Community Psychosocial Supporters have been able to create awareness of the consequences of violence and avenues of assistance and accountability in response instances of violence.
In support of this work, CSVR is currently conducting research with a focus on understanding the process of healing and reparations for victims of the events of 2012, and exploring opportunities for redress, social cohesion and justice.
CSVR will host a Webinar on 27 August, to review what progress has been made and map out the work that is still required to pursue redress and to ensure that we as a society learn from our past. The webinar will involve speakers from civil society involved in addressing this legacy.
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