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South Africa: "A travesty of justice" -- miners charged with murder after police kill 34; Metalworkers condemn state murder

The Democratic Left Front's Vishwas Satgar interviewed on the Real News Network, August 31, 2012. Transcript below DLF statement. More at The Real News.

STOP PRESS, September 2, 2012 -- Following national and international outrage, South African prosecutors have provisionally dropped murder charges against 270 miners whose 34 colleagues were massacred by police. Acting national director of prosecutions for the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) Nomgcobo Jiba said that after having sought an explanation from the department's lead prosecutors, she had taken the decision to review the charge.

A final decision would be taken on the charges after a series of investigations into the shootings had delivered their findings. The workers have been held in custody since they were arrested on the day of the shooting -- August 16 -- at Lonmin's mine in Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg. Courts will start releasing them after police verify their addresses. The first batch of at least 140 miners is due to be freed on September 3 while the rest should go home on September 6.

Despite earlier blaming the workers for the massacre, the ANC government under pressure demanded the prosecutors explain why the arrested miners had been charged with murdering their colleagues, who had been shot dead by police. The Congress of South African Trade Unions said “The overwhelming condemnation from all over the world persuaded the NPA to come to its senses, to drop the charges and release those that were arrested.”

* * *

By the Democratic Left Front

August 30, 2012 -- The Democratic Left Front (DLF) is shocked, disgusted and angered by the decision of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) to charge the 270 workers from the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana currently in custody with the murder of their 34 fellow workers, comrades and strikers who were callously mowed down by the South African Police Service on August 16, 2012.

The NPA has the audacity to justify this decision on the basis of the common law doctrine of common purpose where “suspects with guns or any weapons and they confront or attack the police and a shooting takes place and there are fatalities” (as stated to the BBC by an NPA spokesperson Frank Lesenyego). Infamously, the common purpose charge was last used in a high profile case by the apartheid regime with the Upington 6 case. So much for all the last week's meaningless platitudes and crocodile tears over the Lonmin massacre from the African National Congress and government!

Clearly, President Jacob Zuma’s judicial commission of inquiry has been rendered irrelevant by this charge. Why waste money on a judicial commission when the state has already decided that the workers are responsible for having themselves shot at and their comrades killed by the police? What a travesty of justice! This amounts to cynical cruelty and a flagrant contempt for truth. This opens the door to an official cover-up of the publicly witnessed shooting of the striking workers by the police.

Already, there has been wanton destruction of evidence at the crime scene. All this, together with today’s problematic decision of the Garankuwa Magistrate’s Court to grant the state permission to postpone the bail application of the workers for another seven days. These workers have been in jail for more than 15 days. All this militates against a fair trial of these workers.

On the basis of a doctrine of common affront, and solidarity, the DLF calls on all people in South Africa who stand for the truth and social justice to all line up at police stations demanding to be charged with murder. We call for this action for September 6 when the arrested workers next appear in court.

The DLF calls on the NPA to withdraw the charges of common purpose against the Lonmin workers. The DLF calls on the NPA to lay charges of murder against the police. We say no to a police cover-up. We say no to a judicial commission of enquiry that will whitewash the police.

The DLF calls for solidarity and the mobilisation of all legal, financial and other resources in order to ensure effective legal assistance to the charged workers as well as to ensure that the stories, voices and interests of the affected workers and communities are effectively heard in a transparent and unbiased process. The DLF reaffirms its support for an independent commission of enquiry as endorsed by various Marikana solidarity campaigns launched in Johannesburg and Cape Town in the last week.

Striking miners charged with murder after police kill 34

Paul Jay interviews Vishwas Satgar

August 31, 2012 -- Real News Network

On August 16 in South Africa, at the Lonmin mine in Marikana, police killed 34 miners who were on strike amongst hundreds in a confrontation with police. A postmortem exam, according to a local television station, revealed that most of the miners killed were shot in the back while they were fleeing police, not as they were, according to the police, about to surround and attack the police.

Now there have been charges laid for these murders. Two hundred and seventy miners were charged in the deaths, and no policemen.

Joining us to help us make sense of all of this is Vishwas Satgar. He's a grassroots activist in South Africa for the past 28 years and he's a senior lecturer at the University of Witwatersrand. And he's recently helped form something called Solidarity with the Marikana Minors. Thanks for joining us.

Paul Jay: So lead us through the basic story here first of all, just to kick it off. If I understand it correctly, miners were on strike for higher wages. There is a division within the unions. There's a newer, more militant union and an older, people would say, less militant union allied with the ANC government, and this confrontation develops. So give us the context of what happened, and then we'll get into how it is that the miners get charged and not the police.

Vishwas Satgar: Yeah. I mean, all these essential facts you point to are key, but we just need to take a step back to sort of August 9, when workers at this particular mine, particularly the rock drillers, came together to really think crucially about their work situation and then, of course, make a demand to the management. The management response to their immediate demand for higher wages was to suggest some kind of minimal back pay. In the minds of the workers this really meant that, you know, this mine was a cash cow and, you know, the management could respond in a more serious way to this substantive proposal.

This then snowballed since August 9, with the workers first marching to the National Union of Mineworkers office, which many of these workers were members of and probably still are. On their way to the offices of the National Union of Mineworkers, they were shot at, according to, and allegedly, by members of the National Union of Mineworkers. This led to the death of two workers.

Subsequently this just spirals. Two security guards are killed. Two policemen are killed. Another six workers are killed.

And then the infamous day of August 16, where the workers gather on a location, on a little mountain, what is called a koppie in South Africa, close or adjacent to the mine. The mine calls in a rival union to the National Union of Mineworkers called AMCU and basically tries to get AMCU to try and pull these workers off the koppie and get them back in to work. AMCU tries. They go and speak to the workers. And that is unsuccessful. The National Union of Mineworkers also around this time tries to speak to these workers.

And one of the issues, material facts here that rarely comes out in the sort of witness accounts and the narrative by the workers themselves is that they were addressed by the president of the National Union of Mineworkers while he was inside a police armored vehicle. And that really also irked them and angered them, and while in a context in which they were completely surrounded on this hilltop.

Subsequently, it would seem—and this is based on an academic reconstruction of what happened on August 16 done by a professor at the University of Johannesburg. He essentially went to the site and interviewed various workers and witnesses and put together the sequence of things. And what seems to emerge from this picture is that the police surrounded these workers, they put barbed wire fence, razor wire fence around the perimeter, they left a very narrow opening for these workers, and basically opened fire with tear gas and rubber bullets. The workers then ran for the one and only opening they could see in the barbed wire fence.

Now, a lot of media coverage shows this particular scene and it comes across as though the police are on the retreat and the workers are attacking offensively. But actually it's seen from—according to the professor at the University of Johannesburg, this was the only opening left for those workers. And at least about ten of them were gunned down at that entrance or that opening.

Now, there are other kind of bits of information coming together and are now beginning to come to light in the public arena. It would seem that most of the workers ran in the opposite direction while—from the top of the koppie or the mountain, and they were then gunned down systematically in cold blood in different locations. A journalist link to the Maverick magazine today has basically carefully documented the various sites where these workers were killed and basically has put out the story that, you know, in the difficult rocky crevices and so on, this is where mineworkers were shot. At the same time, there are reports coming out increasingly from eyewitness accounts that many of these workers were also run over by police motorized or armored vehicles. So this is basically the kind of picture that's beginning to emerge around the facts and the details.

This seems systematic. It seems like the police were given—what's the word?—some direction on this. Or should I say, does it seem police [were] out of control? But it seems like there's more going on here than that.

Well, on August 17—and this, again, is according to newspaper accounts and some eyewitness accounts that the senior police commissioner of the area basically made a public statement that they were going to stop the strike. In addition, the National Union of Mineworkers made a public call on national radio and national news for the police to intervene and deal with the situation and the violence. So the kind of perception created is that this clearly was an orchestrated, a planned sort of attack by the police.

Also, just the precision around which they kind of surrounded the whole area, the way they kind of intervened, the kind of firepower—I mean, you know, there were helicopters, there were armored vehicles, I mean, just many, many police in the area. And apparently, according to even the head, the president of AMCU, who spoke at a public meeting, he was quite taken aback by the scale at which the police were handling this operation. Initially, after he made his appeal to the workers to come down and end the strike, they walked away from the situation and they passed what seemed like a very sophisticated sort of command center.

Okay. So I don't quite get this, what happened on Thursday, then. We have evidence that the postmortem examination of the bodies are that most of the miners that were killed were actually running away. You say there's evidence now from this professor that they were actually sort of kettled, in a way, with barbed wire and led towards the police. And then the miners get charged, 270 miners get charged with the deaths of the other miners. What's the logic there?

Well, actually, it's illogical, but it does point to a deepening crisis of our postapartheid democracy. There are four elements to the state response post the Marikana massacre. The first response has been to continue a heavy police presence in and around the communities that make up the Marikana area. And that has also led to a lot of police harassment.

The second element of the response has been the state president of the country, Jacob Zuma, announcing a judicial commission of inquiry, headed up by three judges. He's defined the terms of reference, which is important, but also has certain limitations.

The third element has been [for] the state to call for a peace court process. Right now in the town of Rustenburg is an attempt by the minister of labor to sit down with the unions and hammer out some kind of peace agreement.

The fourth element in this whole equation has been the charging of the mine workers that are currently in police custody with the murder of their colleagues.

Now, this all really doesn't add up. Increasingly, it would seem that what's at heart of the state response is really an attempt to stop the kind of demands, the kind of worker militancy from spreading throughout the platinum belts right now. So there's a lot of doublespeak coming out of government. It doesn't add up, it doesn't make sense, and really the government is not contributing to a climate of trust. There is deep skepticism on the ground within the community about the intentions of the South African [crosstalk]

And what are these miners actually charged with?

Well, that's the thing. They're charged with the murder of their 34 colleagues.

But they use some law about—that because they were there in common purpose, they created the scene where the police shot—they're responsible. I mean, it's something along these lines?

Yeah. I mean, it's—I'm no lawyer, but, I mean, clearly they're trying to kind of construct a legal argument or a legal case, you know, trying to kind of, you know, pin it on them collectively. They had a common intention, a common purpose.

But, you know, again, this—the whole thing about the charging is embroiled in a larger kind of political battle. The workers themselves went to the police station, and this together with Julius Malema, the former Youth League president in South Africa, ANC Youth League president, and he, together with the workers, charged the police for murder. Now, it would seem that the state response is a counter to this, and it's really beginning to become a tit-for-tat issue, sadly, in this situation.

Metalworkers' union: 'first post-apartheid state massacre ... in defence of the local and international mining bosses and their profits'

Statement by the central committee of the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) on the Marikana massacre

September 2, 2012 -- As stated above, the CC met against the backdrop of a world in crisis, with the glaring manifestations of the inherent chronic failures of capitalism in our country and internationally, which are now firmly anchored in the heartland of capitalism itself – in the United States (US) and western Europe. This ugly reality of capitalist barbarity, combined with our untransformed colonial economy and society, has sharply worsened the conditions of the working class and the poor, as evidenced by daily violent service delivery protests in our communities, and growing dissenting voices against the system,demanding housing, water, food, decent jobs and free education for the working class and the poor.

The situation is socially and economically very traumatic among the millions of our youths who cannot find work.

This is the global and national context which explains the Marikana massacre – a worsening global and local capitalist economy which increasingly will resort to bloody violence to “discipline” the working class in order to defend its falling profits.

The CC expressed its deep and heartfelt condolences to the families and friends of the workers that perished in Marikana.

The CC condemned the intransigence and insensitivity of the mine bosses towards the mining workers, and the savage, cowardly actions and excessive force used by the police, which invariably led to the deaths of 44 workers,including the police massacre of 34. Many workers were injured. The CC holds the view that organs of class rule, particularly the police, should not be used recklessly and violently to intervene in industrial disputes involving workers and bosses.

The CC was adamant that what happened in Marikana should be correctly understood, and must go down in our history as the first post-apartheid South African state massacre of the organised working class, in defence of the local and international mining bosses and their profits.

The CC called on the working class and poor not to be fooled and blinded by anyone, but to understand that in a capitalist state or class divided country like South Africa, the state will always act in the interests of the dominant class: the class that owns, control and commands the economy, political and social life. This is, after all, the real reason for the existence of any state!

In the South African case, we understand the dominant capitalist class to be centred on the minerals/energy/finance complex and axis. We are therefore not surprised that the post 1994 South African state and government – a state and government whose strategic task and real reason for existence is the defence and sustenance of the minerals/energy/finance complex -- will do anything to defend the property rights and profits of this class, including slaughtering the working class.

While the CC supports the commission of inquiry as announced by head of state and leader of the African National Congress (ANC) Comrade Jacob Zuma, we believe that the commission must act in the interest of uncovering the whole truth surrounding the unfortunate deaths of the 44 workers. Anything short of this will render the commission useless.

To safeguard the working class in this front of struggle, the NUMSA central committee proposes that COSATU together with revolutionary formations of the working class constitute their own independent commission of inquiry, because going forward, the bourgeoisie and its apologists will in one way or the other use the Marikana tragedy to heighten the already active ideological and repressive offensive against the growing militancy of the working class at the point of production and in communities at large.

Our militancy is not borne out of our biological makeup, but is a result of the perpetual failures of the capitalist system to resolve the problems our class faces. The central committee further calls for the suspension of the task force that executed the massacre. The CC calls on the commission to find out and make public who, between the minister of police and the national police commissioner, gave orders to shoot workers with live bullets when they peacefully assembled on that fateful mountain in Marikana.

NUMSA is extremely disgusted by this display of police brutality. The actionsof the police confirm that we have not, post 1994, transformed the apartheid state and its violent machinery. The actions of the police make a mockery of everything else we thought was transformed, including parliament. By this singular act, the police have violently reminded us once again what Marx and Lenin taught us about the state: that it is always an organ of class rule and class oppression and that bourgeois democracy is nothing but the best political shell behind which the bourgeoisie hides its dictatorship.

The CC demands the dismissal of anyone in the police or in political office who led to the massacre of the workers.

No one can deny the most obvious fact: despite all the well-intentioned government reforms to mining and mining rights, the black working class on the mines are the most exploited, earn very little and live in squalor, while the mining bosses, both local and international, are reaping billions of dollars from our minerals.

Despite the reduced demand for platinum in western Europe and the US, we know that the three platinum companies Lonmin, Implats and Anglo Platinum in the last five years have registered operating profits of more than R160 billion.

While manufacturing industry has had to settle for an average profit margin of 8%, the mining companies have averaged 29%. In fact, in the boom years of 2006 to 2008, they averaged 41%. Their R160 billion profits would have built more than 3 million RDP houses. Instead they leave their employees to an impoverished existence in shacks and then express shock and horror when those workers decide they have had enough and refuse to work until they receive a slightly less meagre salary.

The mining bosses are not fit to control the mineral wealth of our country.

NUMSA is convinced that unless that mineral wealth of our country is returned to the people as a whole, mining will continue to be characterised by violence against the working class either, through dangerous working conditions or fromthe bullets of the police in defence of the profits of the mining bosses.

We see no solution to the violence against workers on the mines apart from nationalisation in defence of the lives of all South Africans.

The CC called for the immediate release of all the arrested Lonmin workers. We condemn in the strongest terms, the inhuman treatment and violence meted out to the detained workers. We see no reason why bail is being denied them.

The CC condemns in the strongest terms the National Prosecuting Authority’s prosecutorial strategy of charging the detained miners for the police murder of their fellow workers, and another five charges! We understand this devious strategy is designed simply to ensure that the trial of the detained workers will last a long time, during which they will be mentally, economically and socially punished and tortured.

The NPA has deployed the combined legal principles of common purpose and dolus enventualis to charge the Lonmin workers with murder. Murder is a crime which requires the intention to kill. Common purpose allows the prosecution of someone who was part of a group of people when a crime was committed, even if they didn’t commit it themselves. So the NPA is suggesting that the Lonmin mineworkers are guilty of murder because they were part of a group present when murder was committed.

But it was their fellow workers who were murdered. So the NPA is suggesting that these Lonmin mineworkers gathered together intending the deaths of their fellow workers. This is the most ludicrous charge. It is just another example of how the NPA seeks to delay the trial of the detained workers and thus punish them by prolonging their suffering at the hands of the state, in futility.

One need not be a lawyer to see that there is no rational, legal or moral basis for the use of these legal principles to accuse workers of murder because their fellow workers were killed by police in a riotous situation, triggered by the police, involving more than 3000 people!

By this act, the NPA has further supplied us with proof of why we are informed all evidence of police bullets at the scene was erased overnight!

The callous insensitivity demonstrated by the NPA in this instance further confirms our view of the state and all its machinery – that it is a means for the oppression and suppression of the working class in favour of the mining bosses.

An important lesson from the Marikana massacre for the working class is that unity of the organised working class is sacrosanct. Further, we all must do whatever it takes to ensure that we constantly promote that unity.

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