ON SEPTEMBER 12 at the Farlam Commission into the deaths at Marikana, the families of the 44 people who died were telling their stories.
The family presentations were short.
Together, they made a compelling narrative of the lives of rock-drill operators — their aspirations, their determination to fight for a living wage, and what they were thinking and feeling during the strike.
The job’s harshness and the workers’ meagre salary came up again and again, as did the trauma and agony the families suffered from their deaths.
John Ledingwane, who was killed by the police like 33 others on August 16 2012, was just 24 years old when he died.
He liked to spend his Sundays reading the newspapers. His four-year-old daughter, Tsenolo, can’t remember him, but she calls out his name when she sees a car similar to his driving past.
Bongani Nqongophele loved to tend to the cattle when he went home. Ntandazo Nokambo coached a soccer team of 11-year-olds. Fezile Samphendu loved to cook.
The father of Mgcineni ‘Mambush’ Noki was also a mine worker. Mgcineni’s mother was still pregnant with him when her husband died.
Cebisile Yawa took over his father’s job after his father was forced to stop because of his health. He continued supporting the family, including his brother, Mandla, who was at university.
Thembinkosi Gwelani did not even work for Lonmin; he had gone to Marikana to look for a job. Every day he took his cousin, Musa, who worked for Lonmin, his lunch on the koppie. He was shot in the back of the head.
Jackson Lehupa’s widow said ‘he was drilling rocks for eight hours a day’. Michael Ngweyi told his family ‘he worked very hard and earned very little’.
Lehupa said the strike was about ‘workers’ rights’, another theme that kept coming up. The families’ statements revealed that for the migrant workers, this strike was about more than R12,500; it was about the future. It was an act of class struggle.
Fezile Samphendu’s sister, Ntombizolile, turned to address workers at the commission, exhorting them to continue the fight. She said: ‘I wish to pass a message to the workers, I want them to be strong and go forward with their demand for their money.
‘This is not somebody else’s money that they are demanding but it is their money that they worked for. I want them to be strong, and go forward and know what they want and not forget the deceased.’
Thobisile Zibambele’s widow said in her statement he gave her his banking details two days before the massacre. She said painfully: ‘It was like he knew that he would be killed.’ Hers stood out as almost all the families said in their statements that they never ‘for a moment’ expected the strike to result in deaths. Their biggest fear was job losses.
Bongani Mdze told his sister the day before he died that he was worried about the turn the strike had taken. People had been killed in previous days. ‘But he did not understand why there were police and nyalas there’, she said.
‘He said the workers wanted to speak to employers but the employers never bothered to come and talk to them,’ she added.
On the morning of August 16, Mpumzeni Ngxande was ‘excited’, thinking the employer was going to negotiate and ‘would give them good news’.
He rushed back to the koppie after lunch because ‘he wanted to hear what (AMCU leader Joseph) Mathunjwa said’. He was rushing to his death.
Family after family said they didn’t know how their loved ones died, they only knew that they were killed by the police.
Other workers said they could not see – there was tear gas and shooting ‘in a fog of confusion’. They want answers.
Nkosiyabo Xalabile was killed a month after getting married.
His grandfather said: ‘My child, my son, died at scene two, Mr Chairperson, where he was actually hiding, hiding where he was killed and killed there like an animal.’
The families then talked of their desperate attempts to find their loved ones, the phones that were off, the searches, the trips to the Phokeng mortuary, the bodies piled up ‘like they were not human bodies’.
Finally, they expressed the trauma and pain of those left behind.
Khawamare Monesa’s wife was nine months pregnant when she lost her husband. She lost her child three days after it was born.
Every time Thembelakhe Mati’s relative, who works on a nearby mine, goes home, Mati’s child asks when his father is coming back.
Bonginkosi Yona’s son was just seven days old when his father died and they never met.
Akhona Jijase had only been working at Lonmin for two months.
His mother said: ‘I want the commission to know that I lost a son during the strike. I want someone to take responsibility for Akhona’s death.’
It is the commission’s job to ascribe that responsibility.
• Evidence before the Farlam Commission that Lonmin moved millions in platinum revenue from South Africa to tax-free Bermuda is likely to prove embarrassing for ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa, who was a Lonmin director and major shareholder until recently, last month attacked corporate tax evaders, which he said have committed a crime against ‘ordinary’ South Africans.
This week the Farlam Commission heard that, for many years, Lonmin’s South African mines have paid ‘sales commissions’, recently averaging more than R200-million a year, to a company it owned in Bermuda.
Lonmin told the commission that it only put a stop to this practice in 2012, with a decision it says it backdated to 2008.
The decision to stop was not made sooner, the company said, because it was blocked by its black economic empowerment partner Incwala, a company controlled by Ramaphosa’s Shanduka Group.
Whether or not substantial commercial activity occurred at Lonmin’s Caribbean subsidiary, called Western Metal Sales, is not clear.
For several weeks, Lonmin has failed to explain, in response to questions, whether Western Metal Sales ever had an actual physical office staffed with employees who sold and marketed platinum on its behalf in order to earn the commissions.
When evidence leaders at the Farlam Commission asked Lonmin to explain these payments on Tuesday, among the facts that appeared to be agreed on by both parties were the following:
• Until 2007, all of the platinum produced by Lonmin’s South African subsidiary, Western Platinum, was ‘marketed’ by Western Metal Sales, the Bermuda company. Western Platinum mines and refines most of the platinum group metals produced by Lonmin.
• Western Platinum pays 2% of its turnover as a ‘sales commission’ for this marketing service. Today the payments no longer go to Bermuda. Instead they are paid to Lonmin plc, the United Kingdom-registered parent company.
• From 2008 to 2012, these commission payments totalled R1.2billion. Western Platinum in South Africa booked these as payments to Western Metal Sales in Bermuda.
• In June and July 2012, Lonmin and its Bermuda and South African subsidiaries signed two new agreements. According to these, the commission payments to Bermuda would be phased out and then stopped. Thereafter, the 2% commissions would be paid to Lonmin plc. But this new structure was backdated to become effective in October 2008, with the phase-out period occurring from 2007.