As a journalist, I will always remember the evening of June 25, 2015. At 7PM, I was driving in the darkness along the Magaliesberg Mountains, with my eyes trained on the tar of the N4 highway and my ears straining to hear the radio over the engine, towards Marikana the land of despair.
On this night, Jacob Zuma, the President of South Africa, spoke over the radio the findings of the Marikana Commission overseen by retired Judge Ian Farlam. It was a long and painstaking business the FORBES AFRICA team dubbed the Misery Commission.
The Marikana Massacre, between 11 and 16 August 2012, sprang from a wildcat strike, outside the Lonmin mine, along South Africa’s Rustenburg platinum belt, 120 kilometers north west of Johannesburg. Forty-four people, including miners, security guards and police, were killed.
It was on May 14, 2013, nine months after the massacre, when I first laid eyes on this hill where people died. It rang with the chants of thousands of miners on another wildcat strike. The protestors littered the hill, dressed in the green of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and carrying knobkerries. The atmosphere was tense as they marched to the Wonderkop Stadium, a kilometer away.
I remember asking journalists then, where they had been when the gunfire started on August 16, 2012? They would point, like hounds to a scent, at patches of dirt etched in their memories. The spots where they dived for cover from the gunfire that brought an end to the lives of 34 miners.
On June 25, 2015, as the report outlining that day was released and the expected portion of blame given, the night air held a deafening silence. I remember jumping out the car, opening the boot and shivering to set up a tripod and camera. The hill was cold and barren under the starry sky.
We drove around the township searching for people who had been listening to the broadcast. To our disappointment, many that were awake did not watch, or even know the report was being released. On this night, Bongikhaya Ndumndum, a former pipe maintenance worker at the mine, was in his home on the corner of the township, meters away from the quiet hill. He didn’t hear the news.
“I remember the police being here. When the police started shooting I ran,” recalls Ndumndum.
The Commission sat for 300 days, ringed by journalists from around the world, in the heart of Pretoria. Among suits, laptops and lever arch files were the truths of how the massacre happened.
Farlam’s 600-page document was summarized by Zuma in 24 minutes.
The report absolved a number of key players. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, a shareholder of Lonmin, who allegedly sent an email to other shareholders to deal with the problem; Minister of Women in the Presidency, and former Mining Minster, Susan Shabangu; Minister of Arts and Culture, and former Minister of Police, Nathi Mthethwa; and Joseph Mathunjwa, the Head of Amcu, were exonerated.
Others, according to the enquiry, did not easily escape. The Commission recommended a full investigation into the criminal liability of all the members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) involved. The killings and assaults prior to August 16, 2012, should be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions‚ for further investigation.
The Commission also ordered a probe in National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega’s fitness to hold office. Both the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and Amcu are accused of not exercising control over its members and endangering bystanders. Lonmin is accused of failing to comply with its housing obligations, which created the environment to begin the strike.
It also issued that a panel should revise the strategies of public order policing within SAPS and implement proper protocols to best dissolve violent clashes. The SAPS training methods were proved to be inadequate and should be revised, including basic first aid training.
It was not closure for all. As the night stretched on, we found a group of journalists who had returned from inside the iron fences of Lonmin. In a small TV room, the families of the victims and their legal representatives waited anxiously for the findings, but by the time the president had finished, the mines had not set up the TV, a small but telling irritation for the families.
Just another cold night on the fields of the Misery Commission.