1 February 2013

South Africa: NUM Did Not Help Marikana Families

Rustenburg — The National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) gave no assistance to the families of union members killed in strike violence at Lonmin's Marikana mine, the Farlam commission of inquiry heard on Friday.

"How do we define membership?" NUM president Senzeni Zokwana asked a commission hearing in Rustenburg.

Nicole Lewis, representing the families of 33 of 34 miners killed on August 16, had asked him about NUM assistance to family members, adding that nine of those killed were NUM members.

Zokwana said some strikers chased and attacked NUM shop stewards and behaved in a way that was "un-NUM".

"And our view therefore is whether the people were members in books of the company, but the manner that led to the events that happened makes us doubt that we could [view them] as NUM members."

He added the union also did not have access to the families, given the hostile situation.

He was testifying during the commission following the death of 44 people at the North West mine last year.

On August 16, 34 striking mineworkers were shot dead and 78 were wounded when police opened fire while trying to disperse a group gathered on a hill near the mine.

In the preceding week, 10 people, including two police officers and two security guards, were hacked to death.

Lewis also questioned Zokwana on NUM's attendance and assistance during the funerals for the killed NUM miners.

"The very [same] mood that prevailed at the koppie prevailed at these funerals," he said.

Zokwana testified that NUM shop stewards had to flee the mine on August 12 for their own safety after their office was almost attacked and burnt down by a large group of strikers the day before.

"Therefore I don't believe a NUM person could have been able to visit a family or attend a funeral."

She asked if the union had created a fund for the families, seeing as the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union had done so.

"NUM did not create a fund."

However, Zokwana said the NUM had approached Lonmin about making funds available for all mineworkers, including those who did not belong to unions.

Earlier, Zokwana testified how the NUM was failed by Lonmin security days before the deadly shooting at its Marikana mine.

"On that day, they [NUM members] were failed by the system that was suppose to protect them," Zokwana said.

He was referring to the events of August 11, when striking workers tried to attack the NUM's office.

NUM members inside the office armed themselves with traditional weapons upon hearing that strikers were on their way to burn down the building.

The two groups were about to clash when shots were fired and the strikers fled. Two strikers were injured.

Ishmael Semenya, for the police, asked Zokwana if the NUM condoned shots being fired at crowds.

"NUM would denounce any form of violence, especially by its leaders," Zokwana answered, but said union members' lives had been threatened by the large crowd of armed strikers.

Semenya said he was concerned that this might send a message that people should try to defend themselves, instead of contacting the authorities.

Zokwana said Lonmin security guards came to the NUM's office before the strikers arrived and told members to leave, as they could not protect them.

"We would never encourage people to take it [the law] into their own hands. It's not the way we work. We respect the law of this country."

However, members had been let down by security on the day.

The commission adjourned and would continue on Tuesday.

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