South Africa's Ramaphosa defends actions before Marikana massacre

Reuters News
Posted: Aug 11, 2014 7:54 AM

By Joe Brock

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa was trying to "prevent further loss of life" when he intervened in a wildcat strike that ended with the police killing 34 miners, he told an inquiry on Monday.

Ramaphosa, who led a historic strike for fairer pay for black miners under apartheid in 1987, has faced accusations of putting political pressure on the police to take action against striking Lonmin employees before the shooting at the Marikana mine on Aug. 16, 2012.

It was the bloodiest security incident since the end of white-minority rule 20 years ago.

In the days before what has come to be known as the "Marikana massacre", at least nine people had already been killed in strike-related violence, including two police officers. Ramaphosa, who was a Lonmin director at the time, said that prompted him to contact the Lonmin leadership and the ministers of police and mining.

"With a grave situation unfolding at the mine, I felt duty bound to help. To prevent further loss of life," Ramaphosa told the inquiry.

Ramaphosa, once called "South Africa's Lech Walesa" after the Polish labor leader and democracy activist, now finds himself pilloried as a cold-hearted capitalist.

In the gallery, around a dozen Marikana residents wore "McCyril Killer" t-shirts, denigrating U.S.-style capitalism. Ramaphosa is also a Lonmin investor.

As the trade unionist-turned-billionaire took his oath, someone in the chamber shouted: "He doesn't believe in God."

The inquiry focused its morning session on emails sent on Aug. 15, 2012, a day before the police shooting, between Ramaphosa and the company's chief commercial officer Albert Jamieson.

In one email, Ramaphosa said "concomitant action" was needed to address "dastardly criminal" actions by wildcat strikers, adding that he would contact cabinet ministers.

In an email later that day, he said that then-Mining Minister Susan Shabangu would be briefing President Zuma and would "get the Minister of Police Nathi Mthetwa to act in a more pointed way".

Ramaphosa told the committee he meant that the police should protect people's lives and arrest miners who had committed crimes.

Ramaphosa is the most prominent witness to be called by the Marikana commission of inquiry, an investigation led by retired judge Ian Farlam that began in October 2012 and was supposed to last four months.

As well as probing the Aug. 16 shootings, the Marikana commission has a broader remit to look into labor relations, pay and accommodation in South Africa's mines - issues seen as spurring the wildcat strike that preceded the killings.

(Editing by David Dolan/Ruth Pitchford)