Rustenberg — Rumours and reports that NUM was working with Lonmin Platinum Mine added to the union losing control of its members at the Marikana mine, the Farlam Commission of Inquiry heard on Wednesday.
"All the stories that the NUM was colluding with the employer added to us losing control," National Union of Mineworkers president Senzeni Zokwana said.
"When violence was used it was difficult for us to call on shop stewards to return to work... We did not only lose control -- we lost lives."
Zokwana was being cross-examined at the Rustenburg Civic Centre by Tshepiso Ramphile, representing families of murdered security guards at the mine when mineworkers went on strike in August last year.
Ramphile wanted to establish whether the conduct of NUM members and officials was in the best interests of resolving the issues at the mine and the role played by the union in the violent strike.
The NUM had done a lot of good for miners in the past, but the commission was established to find out if weaknesses in the union had led to the deaths of the mineworkers, he said.
Ramphile questioned Zokwana on the grades used to determine the wages of rock drill operators.
Zokwana said the union was in talks with the Chamber of Mines to negotiate better wages for the rock drill operators.
"We can deal with the industry -- we have been engaging on the issue of grades," he said.
Ramphile asked: "Could it be that the rock drillers lost confidence?"
Zokwana said that before the union agreed with wage increases they consulted with members -- and the rock drill operators had agreed to the previous increase.
"I understand if rock drillers were angry about these wages, but there should be ways of dealing with it. Violence is not the way to deal with it," Zokwana said.
He told the commission he did not blame anyone for the violence and that it was the commission's job to find those responsible for the deaths of 44 people.
The NUM did not just care about their members, but all mineworkers, and was concerned about the loss of lives, and had spoken to the families of those who died at Marikana, Zokwana said.
"We don't limit our work to NUM members," he said.
"We feel the pain of every worker on duty."
Earlier, Zokwana told the commission that the union told their members to go to work, because the violence that marked the strike by mineworkers at Marikana last year could not have been anticipated.
"Nobody could have predicted that it would be the trend of those on strike to kill those working," Zokwana said.
"We urged our members to go to work -- we could not anticipate the violence... It was their right [to strike], but that right could not come at the expense of other workers' [rights]."
He told the commission that the employer had the right to dismiss workers who embarked on an illegal strike. If the situation was volatile the employer should have closed the mine, he added.
The union had called for police back-up, not to negotiate, but to ensure law and order when miners went to work, because they feared for their lives.
Zokwana said it was also the responsibility of the mine to ensure the safety of miners who went to work.
"The employer was supposed to render that protection [to workers going to work]."
The commission is probing the deaths of 44 people during an unprotected strike at Lonmin's Marikana mine. On August 16, 34 striking mineworkers were shot dead and 78 injured when police opened fire while trying to disperse a group that had gathered on a hill near the mine.
Ten people, including two police officers and two security guards, were killed near the mine in the preceding week.
Commission chairman Judge Ian Farlam reminded the lawyers that they should not repeat evidence that the commission had already heard, and said they should not waste time because the commission was costly.
"The time of this commission is precious. Every day is important."
The inquiry continues.