13 November 2015

South Africa: Ghost of Marikana Haunts Ramaphosa

Photo: Werner Beukes/SAPA
A woman cries at a memorial service for slain miners in Marikana.

Marikana will haunt South Africa's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for the rest of his career.

Ramaphosa revealed on Thursday in parliament that he's been summoned by lawyers representing the victims of Marikana - they insist he's to blame for the police shooting 34 striking platinum miners in 2012.

Ramaphosa was a director and shareholder at the Lonmin platinum mine at the time of the massacre.

He was involved in an email exchange with the ministers of mineral resources and police in which it's alleged he pressured them to take action.

This was all before Ramaphosa became deputy president. But he was cleared by the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into Marikana.

Ramaphosa has always denied any wrongdoing and has instructed his lawyers to defend the action.

The families' lawyers haven't said anything on the summons publicly yet, but their feelings are well known.

Grim milestone

The Farlam report, released in June by President Jacob Zuma, mostly blamed Lonmin, the police and unions for the "tragedy". But no one really thought that would be the end of it.

The National Police Commissioner has been suspended over her handling of it and it is looking like she's the one who'll take the fall.

What happened at Marikana was a grim milestone for South Africa.

It reminded people of the worst brutality of apartheid, police opening fire on protesters. That it happened under a majority black government really shook the nation.

The killings prompted national soul searching and finger pointing, the black elite (that is: Ramaphosa) was accused of being too close to the industry, too cosy, too protective of its own financial interests - at the behest of poor blacks, the miners.

The images of dead and dying miners, dust swirling around them, are now burned into the nation's conscience.

People recoiled across the country that this harrowing slice of the old South Africa should still be part of the new South Africa.

Blurred lines

Marikana highlighted the blurred lines between politics and big business, and the widening gap between the black elite and the millions of South Africans who still, many years after the end of apartheid, are still poor, and still the victims of police brutality.

Marikana is to Ramaphosa what the corruption and rape allegations were to Zuma. It may not stop him becoming president, but it will stalk him forever.

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