Para-military police units ‘should not have been used at Marikana!’

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Living conditions for workers in the townships
Living conditions for workers in the townships

WITH the strike by platinum miners continuing to grip South Africa, senior police officer Lieutenant Colonel Salmon Vermaak outlined internal problems that contributed to the Marikana killings during his testimony at at the Farlam commission.

As his cross-examination continued, the North West air wing chief listed inadequate training and poor information management as some of the main failures of the public order police (POP) unit, whose mandate is to provide crowd control.

The cross-examination last Wednesday, led by advocate Anthony Gotz on behalf of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), referred to a letter written by Lieutenant Colonel Vermaak to the provincial police commissioner in December 2012, four months after the Marikana massacre at the Lonmin mine.

The police killed 34 striking striking miners and injured more than 70 others on August 16 that year.

In the letter, Vermaak raised his concerns about the inadequate training of the unit’s members, their incomplete knowledge of legislation and standing orders, inexperienced commanders in charge of operations, the lack of essential equipment, the inadequate use of available equipment and the insufficient gathering of information and intelligence.

Vermaak also said there had been a decrease in the unit’s personnel after restructuring, and that the decentralisation of the department had made it difficult to handle major situations. During cross-examination, Vermaak produced the unit’s procedural manual for information management, which was added as a new exhibit. According to him, the lack of information management was one of the main failures of the public order police at Marikana.

Vermaak told the commission: ‘In the past, it was stipulated what was expected from the information manager to keep the operational commander up to date, so that he can make the necessary decisions on that.’

He was concerned about the lack of information available at Marikana in August 2012. ‘I did not know of anyone in POP information (management) making an input during that operation.’

AMCU counsel Gotz drew Vermaak’s attention to the addition of paramilitary police units, such as the tactical response units (TRTs), which often resorted to ‘heavy-handed methods’ when policing public events.

He referred to the dramatic increase in the number of people killed by police during 2011 compared with previous years. Vermaak said that things could have turned out differently on the day of the massacre, saying: ‘I believe that if myself or Brigadier Calitz had been in charge of that operation, we would only have used public order policing and not TRT and other units.’

He said that the mandatory psychological testing of the public order policing members has fallen away. The commission, which started in October 2012, was appointed by the president to investigate the Marikana killings.

Phase two of the commission, which began last week, consists of a series of public seminars held to probe the underlying causes of the August 2012 massacre. The commission, which is led by retired judge Ian Farlam, was meant to be concluded by the end of this month but, according to the commission”s secretary, Phuti Setati, the inquiry is waiting to hear from Farlam whether this will be possible.

The second public seminar held on Wednesday by the Marikana commission of inquiry explored migrant labour in the mining sector. Industrial sociologist Gavin Hartford, the director of the Esop Shop, examined why strikes occur in the mining industry in his presentation Migrant Labour Post-Apartheid: What Transformation, What Solutions?

Hartford pointed to the change in migrant labourers’ post-apartheid living conditions. He said that collective bargaining had ensured that they received some form of allowance to enable them to buy or rent houses.

This development saw vast numbers of labourers leave the mine hostels to set up homes. However this resulted in labourers then having two households to maintain – one at the mine and one in the area from which they originated. This had a major impact on the socioeconomic landscape.

Sociologist Hartford said: ‘Their conditions have changed significantly . . . and this is the key driver of their demands.’ Added to this, he said, was the National Union of Mineworkers” failure to address these demands effectively with collective bargaining now done by union officials who are paid a lot more than the labourers they represent.

‘A-level (lower-earning) employees have little or no representation in the unions at all levels,’ Hartford said. This has led to the collapse of constituency-based representation. This, and the failure of line managers to address labour issues, has led to the ‘massive alienation’ of migrant labourers, who then ‘start to take industrial action unilaterally to address issues of employment’.

The presentation of University of Cape Town school of economics Professor Francis Wilson addressed the consequences of migrant labour. His was titled End to Migrancy: What Consequences, What Response?

Wilson said that, although mining cities such as Johannesburg had become ‘locations of capital accumulation’, the labour-sending areas, mostly former homelands such as those in the Eastern Cape, became ‘poverty-stricken’ as their ‘agricultural productivity’ dropped.

The short-term solution, according to Wilson, would be for labourers to send more remittances home. This could result in a drop in poverty levels from 67% to 48%. He said that people in the labour-sending areas could make more use of social security benefits, such as grants, to lift them out of hunger poverty.

A long-term solution would be for migrant labourers and their families to relocate permanently to urban areas; another would be to invest in infrastructure, agriculture and industry in poverty-stricken areas.

The next seminar will be held on April 16. It will focus on the phenomenon of violence during strikes.

l After a deal was brokered between COSATU and the ANC, reinstated COSATU general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, long-term ally National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) general secretary Irvin Jim warned Vavi that campaigning for the ruling party will be ‘at his own peril’.

NUMSA members directed their anger at COSATU president Sdumo Dlamini last Wednesday at COSATU’s shop steward council meeting in Johannesburg. They demanded to know about the timing of the intervention by the ANC leadership, led by party deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa last Tuesday, which led to an apparent pre-election truce.

The move was aimed at averting Vavi being suspended again by his comrades in COSATU and to prevent the expulsion of NUMSA from the federation. Vavi, who was suspended from his post for eight months, was reinstated the previous week after the Johannesburg high court found that his suspension was invalid, following a legal challenge by NUMSA and eight other COSATU affiliates.

NUMSA, the largest COSATU affiliate with more than 300,000 members, resolved in December last year not to campaign for the ANC.

Meanwhile, National Union of Mineworkers general secretary, Frans Baleni, said the COSATU Central Executive Committee (CEC) has instructed the federation’s office bearers to reconvene the CEC meeting within 14 days to discuss outstanding items on the agenda, including the Vavi judgment and NUMSA’s suspension.

Although some of Vavi’s supporters are unhappy with the ANC’s intervention, senior party leaders said last week that they expected Vavi, who is popular with workers and the rural poor, to join the ANC on its campaign trail.

In an interview, NUMSA leader Jim said the ANC only wants to use Vavi to gain support before the elections. Jim said: ‘They are doing it for elections. I see some people are saying we have smoked a peace pipe, but we know these fellows are coming back (to expel NUMSA and Vavi). It’s a temporary delay. They will be coming back very shrewd. They can’t tolerate Vavi.

‘He (Vavi) must wake up. He has not crossed the Rubicon . . . to see that nothing will change under the ANC. They will continue to mess him up.’

Commenting on the recent deal, Jim added: ‘All that the ANC has done was to say we must postpone the discussion. It is misleading that Cyril has succeeded in getting the unions to smoke a peace pipe.

‘There are no real issues that have been dealt with. The issue is about the revolution that has gone wrong. This is about South Africa’s revolution. The revolution can”t be facilitated.’

NUMSA is also not happy about Ramaphosa and ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe being members of the ANC task team.

Jim said Mantashe has long taken sides with the Dlamini-led faction, and Ramaphosa is not trusted because of his involvement in Lonmin, whose striking miners were killed in Marikana. Vavi commented separately: ‘The poor can see that the national democratic revolution is continuing to produce billionaires while they are still living in squalor.

‘This is what is causing the divisions. The task of the revolution is to fight this.’ Jim said he does not see how the ANC’s intervention will help to resolve the tensions in Cosatu because the real issues that divide the federation have not been discussed.