Don’t Listen to their Lies

Don’t scab for the bosses
Don’t listen to their lies
Us poor folks haven’t got a chance
Unless we organize

“Which Side Are You On?” by Florence Reece (1931)

Why did police brutally murder 34 mine workers on 16 August 2012 in Marikana, South Africa?

The 2012 Marikana massacre was the culmination of years of injustice brought upon working class people at the hands of a billion-dollar mining company and a dysfunctional government that worked hand-in-hand against the people. The real-world David vs. Goliath story of Marikana residents seeking justice from state and corporate violence is poignantly documented in Strike A Rock.

Strike a Rock portrays mothers and best friends, Primrose Sonti and Thumeka Magwangqana, fighting for justice. They live in Nkaneng, Marikana, an informal settlement in rural South Africa that sprung up around a mine operated by Lonmin Plc, the third largest platinum-extractor in the world.

Lonmin Plc, formerly Lonhro (the London and Rhodesian Mining and Land Company Limited), was incorporated in the United Kingdom in 1909. It is listed on the London and Johannesburg stock exchanges. Its core business is the extraction, refining and marketing of platinum group metals. More than 90% of Lonmin’s mining operations are in South Africa. The company has a mining licence in South Africa valid until 2037 and renewable until 2067. The Group’s flagship operation is in South Africa’s North West Province. Marikana accounts for 95% of Lonmin’s output.

In South Africa, mining companies are required by law to develop local mining communities. This is done through Social and Labour Plans (SLPs) needed for a mining license, which are legally binding. South Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) reserves the right to cancel or suspend a mining license in the event of non-compliance with the SLP.

In 2006, Lonmin boasted that their SLP would make the community of Marikana “comfortably middle class” by 2011. The SLP included an undertaking to build 5,500 houses for the Marikana community.

But, by 2012, only three (3) show houses had been built.

In Strike a Rock, Thumeka asks: “If they have broken the law, why has the government allowed them to get away with it?”

Amnesty International documents Lonmin’s years of lies and excuses in their 2016 report “Smoke and Mirrors”. Following the police violence against Marikana mine workers, a government commission was formed, which found that:

“Lonmin’s failure to comply with its housing obligations “created an environment conducive to the creation of tension, labour unrest, disunity among its employees or other harmful conduct”

A senior Lonmin official, Mr Seedat, speaking at the Farlam Commission conceded that there was a critical shortage of decent housing for the employees of Lonmin and that the board and executive of Lonmin understood that the tragic events at Marikana were linked to that shortage. Mr Seedat conceded that Lonmin had known about the critical housing shortage at Marikana and the squalid conditions in Nkaneng and other informal settlements for years and that Lonmin knew significant numbers of its staff were living in the informal settlements.

In the early years of the SLP, Lonmin’s revenue was more than 1.8 billion US dollars annually. And yet, they built a total of three (3) houses; an achievement of 0.05% of their promised target!

How can South Africans keep corporate executives and state officials accountable, especially when they can be the same person?

Photo from Strike a Rock

The case of Marikana is a study in disgusting corporate greed (money that was promised for housing going to corporate owners); government apathy to its own people; and the brutality of police to serve the interests of business and government instead of the safety of citizens.

However, it also shows a story of hope. The hope of marginalized people to secure justice in the face of seemingly insurmountable corporate and state collusion.

Lonmin has significant legal obligations to the community that they mine under and around, but does not comply with all their responsibilities. However, instead of improving, the living conditions that motivated the strike in the first place continue to worsen. And this is what Primrose and Thumeka are fighting against.

These two inspiring women formed a women’s organisation, Sikhala Sonke (We Cry Together), after their friend Paulina was killed by police. Over time they grow into two different leaders in the search for social and economic justice. Primrose’s ambition lands her a seat in Parliament with a new, radical opposition party. But to take up the post she must leave Marikana. Thumeka, left behind, faces her fears as she picks up the reigns of the resistance as a community leader, and challenges Lonmin in a landmark Complaint against them.

Despite driving the gears of industry for decades, mine workers from around the world continue to fight for basic decency where they live and where they work.

We must never let corporate or government power operate without accountable. We must hold their feet to the fire and put a spotlight on their broken promises.

The fight in Marikana goes on.

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