THE Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), the biggest union in South Africa’s ‘platinum belt’, says that Marikana has once again become a ‘killing field’ after yet another member was gunned down last week.
‘The bloodshed continues and the body count keeps climbing. Amcu is in mourning. Our members are being killed in cold blood, assassinated by cowards hiding in the dark of the night,’ Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa said last Thursday. ‘It is extremely painful and unnerving to be greeted almost weekly by the news of one of our comrades being killed.’
Eight Amcu leaders have been gunned down since more than 40 people died in August 2012 in the platinum belt amid a wage strike at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, Mathunjwa said. Amcu has asked for an urgent meeting with Police Minister Fikile Mbalula, to demand his immediate intervention to fast-track the prosecution of those responsible for all the murders since 2012.
‘Amcu has also enlisted the services of a reputable private investigator to support the investigative processes, in the name of Paul O’Sullivan, who has more than 37 years’ experience in law-enforcement and is considered one of the world’s leading security experts,’ Mathunjwa said.
Tholakele Dlunga, 39, an Amcu member and health and safety chairperson at Lonmin’s Rowland shaft was killed outside his home in Wonderkop on Tuesday. Amcu said the killings on the platinum belt are similar to killings in the hostels in KwaZulu Natal.
‘What is taking place on the Platinum Belt is no different to the impunity enjoyed by assassins at Glebelands Hostel in Durban, the killers of ANC councillors and other activists in KwaZulu-Natal and in Northern Pondoland. In the first instance our concern is the killings of our comrades on the Platinum Belt.
‘Nevertheless, we cannot shy away from making the point of the dangerous environment of impunity being created in our country, which acts as an encouragement for hitmen to undertake their immoral acts and for assassins to become a growing profession and an employment opportunity,’ Mathunjwa said.
‘Once again, for the record, we demand that anyone involved in these killings, regardless of their affiliation, must be prosecuted and sent to jail,’ adding that the union had restrained itself in speculating on what is behind these killings.
‘We don’t know,’ he said. However, Amcu had wondered and become increasingly convinced of a so-called third-force process being played out. ‘The number of killings, the ruthlessness with which they have been carried out remind us of the days of third force violence meted out against the democratic forces by the Apartheid state,’ he said.
Mathunjwa slammed media houses that have reported that Amcu was behind the killings, thus creating an environment for them to occur because of internal conflict within the union. He said police had arrested three suspects on Wednesday believed to be linked to the killings, but that Amcu was not surprised by the delay in arrests. ‘This acts as an encouragement for hitmen to undertake their immoral acts and for assassins to become a growing profession and an employment opportunity,’ he said in a statement.
At a mass meeting in Wonderkop, Marikana, on Wednesday, Mathunjwa went as far as saying he would increase the R100,000 reward to R200,000 for any information on the killings, adding that the protection of workers was important. Amcu also slammed mines for their focus on profit over the safety of their workers, focusing specifically on the imminent retrenchments at Sibanye Stillwater, Impala Platinum and AngloGold Ashanti; as well as deaths on various mines due to seismic activity.
‘Mines have quite literally become a death trap for workers who risk their lives on a daily basis for the profits of mining houses,’ the statement read. Amcu has threatened to embark on a nationwide strike if the union and the department of mineral resources reach a deadlock on the issue of job losses.
Two months had passed after Tholakele ‘Bhele’ Dlunga survived the Marikana Massacre when five plainclothes policemen knocked down the door to his shack. The rock drill operator from Lonmin’s Karee 4 Belt helped organise workers in the lead-up to the 2012 strike and was elected one of the leaders of the strike committee.
The police had photos of other leaders and wanted to know their whereabouts. They tortured Bhele for days, first at home, then at the police station. ‘I have no idea how Bhele’s life will turn out after this, and if he might some day find justice for his suffering,’ Ranjeni Munusamy wondered after Bhele told his story at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering in 2012. He survived the massacre, but didn’t survive Marikana.
According to police, Bhele entered his yard at the Wonderkop Hostel last Tuesday evening shortly before 20:00 and noticed two men standing behind a wall. They opened fire when he asked what they wanted. Wounded, he ran to his front door. He was shot again while trying to get inside.
The killings in Marikana never really ended, they’ve just ebbed and flowed. At least five Association of Mineworker and Construction Union (Amcu) leaders have been assassinated in Marikana in recent months and no one can definitively explain why.
Mineworkers were tense before a mass Amcu meeting last Wednesday night at Marikana’s Wonderkop Stadium, a few hundred metres from where 34 strikers were killed by police on 16 August 2012.
In the aftermath of that massacre, miners were even more suspicious of journalists than usual and they had a similar, heightened awareness on Wednesday. ‘It’s like they’re on schedule, every week,’ an Amcu member said of the recent killings.
Greg Marinovich, who exposed the police for torturing Bhele and wrote the award-winning Murder at Small Koppie: The Real Story of the Marikana Massacre, said he was appalled to hear of Bhele’s murder. In May of 2013, Steve Khululekile was gunned down in a platinum belt tavern as Amcu was trying to establish itself in a union struggle for members.
‘Many other union officials have been murdered in the deadly contest for election as shop stewards,’ said Marinovich. ‘That same night, neighbours warned Bhele that strangers had been seen lurking near the compound where he rented a shack. He wisely chose to spend the night at a friend’s nearby corrugated zinc room. In the morning, community members found the imprints of unfamiliar shoes that had walked around Bhele’s shack. Word was that it was a failed assassination. This time, the killers got to him, a brave, moral and beloved leader of the miners has been taken from the community.’
Outside the press briefing last Thursday, the Amcu president said journalists must look not only at Amcu but the historical context of how the government and the ANC’s ally NUM tried to derail the upstart union. The Marikana Commission detailed how worried the ANC and NUM were about Amcu getting a foothold in the industry. In fact, it was the police, NUM and government that overplayed Amcu’s reasonably minor role in the 2012 strike.
NUM has been trying to claw back members since Amcu took over the platinum sector. President Jacob Zuma, and former State Security Minister David Mahlobo, with the assistance of the State Security Agency, even allegedly funded a union to rival and spy on Amcu.
‘The number of killings, the ruthlessness with which they have been carried out … remind us of the days of third force violence meted out against the democratic forces by the apartheid state,’ said Mathunjwa. He alleged ‘mining companies were also involved. Let us not be divided by capitalist agents. The tribalism that supposedly led to the killings are manufactured somewhere. It’s a deliberate effort to reinstate the NUM in Marikana.’