Remembering Marikana

This is an unpublished essay I wrote on the Marikana Massacre. It fell through at the publishing stage, and I haven’t managed to find a home for it, so I’ve opted to post it here. It has not been through the editing process so apologies if there are errors and mistakes.


Negotiation Failures and Biased Policing: The case of the Cyril Ramaphosa and Lonmin at Marikana


“If I tend to deemphasize the legacy of colonial racism, it is not only because it has been the subject of perceptive analyses by militant intellectuals like Frantz Fanon, but because I seek to highlight that part of the colonial legacy – the institutional – which remains more or less intact” – Mahmood Mamdani.


“It must be remembered that it was the mining industry, and specifically The Chamber of Mines, which pioneered the most oppressive features of Apartheid South Africa” – Cyril Ramaphosa.

“I was facing death and I realized the only thing I was dying for was money” – Mzoxolo Magidiwana.

On 16 August 2012 police opened fire on striking miners in the Marikana area of South Africa, killing 34 and injuring 78. Due to South Africa’s Apartheid history the shooting became a landmark in the contemporary history of the country; it recalled similar Apartheid era abuses of police force such as, The Sharpeville Massacre and The Soweto Uprising (Ndlovu, 2013, pp. 53-57)

This essay would argue that a major cause of the massacre was the misuse of the police force as a buffer between Lonmin Management, and mineworkers. Rather than creating a sincere negotiation environment Lonmin chose to collude with high level members of the South Africa Police Force (SAPS), to forcefully quell the strike. Added to this was pressure from businessman and politician Cyril Ramaphosa, who wished to quell the strike for both corporate and political reasons.

The order of this paper will be to describe the events of the Marikana shooting, highlighting key negotiation failures by Lonmin and the SAPS. The paper will then move to provide additional evidence regarding the collusion between Lonmin and the SAPS, as well as discuss the added pressure from Cyril Ramaphosa.

The Marikana Shooting


The story of Marikana begins in a world too vast and complex to cover in this essay, however some mention of it should be made, as it is essentially the underlying contextual cause of the Marikana shooting. This is the world of the South African miner. Miners generally work and live under dismal conditions. The work itself is extremely dangerous, and the wages received grossly inadequate as compensation for risks incurred, or to adequately make a living (Frankel, 2013, pp. 45-50). Under these conditions rock drillers from the Marikana mine opted to protest their low wages, by refusing to work, and marching to the management offices of the Lonmin Platinum Mine. At the time, the rock drillers were earning R4000 a month, or $347.65 at the time of writing; the equivalent of $2.17 an hour (Miners Shot Down, 2014).

Adding to the tension over wages was the National Union of Miners Association (NUM). As the main union representative for miners it was believed that NUM were in the pockets of Lonmin’s upper management. On the first day, 10 August 2012, the miners were turned back by Lonmin management, and told that Lonmin would only negotiate through NUM (Miners Shot Down, 2014). This would mark the first of a series of poor decisions made by Lonmin.

On the second day, 11 August, the workers chose to approach NUM offices. In a bizarre turn of events, the president of the NUM office handed out guns, machetes and spears to the 30 officials present. An encounter ensued where two miners were killed (Miners Shot Down, 2014). This first bit of violence entrenched the animosity between mine workers and NUM, and created paranoia amongst the miners. Until this point the protesting miners had been unarmed. After the shooting a number of workers from the competing union, the Association of Construction and Mine Workers (AMCU) joined the striking miners in a show of solidarity. The leader of AMCU, Joseph Mathunjwa, also believed NUM to be close with Lonmin Management (Miners Shot Down, 2014). On the third day, 12 August, the miners armed themselves and headed back to NUM offices, in what appears to be a retaliatory manner. Accounts from this day are unclear, but when the dust settled two private security members were found dead (Miners Shot Down, 2014). It was on day four when the police were deployed.

On 13 August, a number of armed miners headed to the Karee shaft at Marikana, with the intention of stopping miners who were still working. On the way to the Karee shaft these miners were met by a contingent of police, bizarrely led by the Deputy Police Commissioner of the North West province General Mpembe (a province is the South African equivalent of a state) (Miners Shot Down, 2014).

At this point the miners were asked to disarm (they had spears and machetes) before being allowed to pass. Still fearful of retaliatory action from NUM, the miners requested an escort to a nearby mountain, before disarming. Mpembe refuses this request. The miners posture back and opt to retreat to the mountain without police permission. All seems to go well, with the miners moving slowly, and purposefully attempting not to antagonize the police, until teargas is fired into the miner’s column, scattering them. In the aftermath three miners and two police are found dead (Miners Shot Down, 2014).

On the fifth day, 14 August, there is clear conflict escalation on the side of the police, a poor response as they were the aggressors the previous day. 580 heavily armed police are deployed to the Marikana scene. At this point between around 2000-3000 miners inhabit the mountain mentioned above. The police deploy a hostage negotiator to discuss options with the miners (Miners Shot Down, 2014). Around here the issue morphs from miners vs Lonmin Management/NUM to miners vs police. Throughout the events, miners were clear that they wished to discuss wages with Lonmin management and nothing else. Still, Lonmin are still nowhere to be found, yet police are present in full force, to “negotiate”. This was a poor attempt at negotiation. Any sincere negotiation attempt would definitely not include more police and more weapons, and at the very least a Lonmin official. The core grievance was with Lonmin, not police.

On the sixth day, 15 August, Joseph Mathunjwa of AMCU arrives at the scene to negotiate through the miner/police deadlock. In a show of good faith lacked by Lonmin, he pleads with the police to allow him to approach the miners unarmed, without a police escort. Aptly Mathunjwa states, “these are human beings” (Miners Shot Down, 2014). Foolishly the police refuse Mathunjwa’s request. Similarly, Lonmin continue to antagonize stating they will only negotiate should the miners: disarm, disperse from the mountain, and return to work. While the disarmament requirement might have been founded, the dispersal and return to work requests completely undermine the miner’s goals. These shows of bad faith indicate Lonmin had no intention of negotiating fairly, and preferred to hide behind the police. Despite this, Mathunjwa manages to broker a deal, with the miners dispersing on the advisement that Lonmin will negotiate the next morning.

On the seventh and final day, 16 August despite the great strides made by Joseph Mathunjwa, more police are deployed to the scene, along with 4000 rounds of live ammunition, and four mortuary vans. This bizarre reaction will be discussed further below. Lonmin Management do not arrive at the scene, while Mathunjwa and the miners arrive as planned. As police posturing grows, Mathunjwa discerns that the police intend to end the standoff by force. He approaches the miners and pleads with them to disperse. Essentially defeated, the miners begin to disperse. Despite this, police begin to surround the miners and set up a barbed wire barricade. There appear to be two police columns, one behind the moving miners, and one to the side. Teargas a gunshot are fired at a group of miners from the side column. A miner returns fire, and the side column open fire on the miners. The miners then panic and flee, unfortunately in the direction of the police column behind them. Interpreting this as a charge, the back column also opens fire on the miners. This is known as Scene One, whose footage was largely disseminated throughout the internet. Seventeen miners are found slain at Scene One (Miners Shot Down, 2014).

Scene Two provides evidence that even after the initial shooting, some police decided to hunt down and execute fleeing miners. Bodies are found on the ground, ammunition cartridges found on rocks above the bodies. Wounds on the miners also indicate they were shot at close range. Seventeen miners are found dead at Scene Two (Miners Shot Down, 2014). It is difficult to discern whether this disturbing behavior was arbitrarily taken by police on the ground or ordered from above.


Apart from the clear negotiation failures made by Lonmin Management and the SAPS, there is another darker side of the Marikana Massacre. Evidence found after the shooting indicates that Lonmin colluded with high level members of the South African Police force (SAPS), in an attempt to prevent the strike from spreading (Miners Shot Down, 2014). Transcripts of telephone conversations between Bernard Mokoena of Lonmin, and North West Police Commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo, indicate a combined effort to forcefully quell the strike. Mokoena makes statements such as, “…because this is not an HR issue, it has become a security issue,” and, “And we say we are not going to talk wages because there is no reason for us to open wages” (Unknown, 2012, pp. 3-4). This indicates there was no intention of negotiating wages, or attending to the underlying grievances of the miners. Lonmin chose rather to criminalize the miners, giving them the excuse to hand over the situation to the SAPS.

The SAPS commissioner makes statements such as, “these people they are less than 1000, with the number of police that we have let us settle these people,” and, “[T]his evening I am getting 480 members, tomorrow when we go there for the second time now, that we were there today and they did not surrender, then it is blood” (Unknown, 2012, pp. 5,6). This shows an unnecessary hardline attitude, and a lack of conviction for a peaceful resolution. Any police presence at the scene should have been to prevent any clashes between miners, Lonmin private security and NUM. Other than this, police should have fostered an environment for Lonmin and miners to negotiate. Instead the SAPS chose to favor Lonmin Management.

Furthermore evidence from the same transcript above, and email correspondence uncovered, afterward, indicate Cyril Ramaphosa was applying downward pressure for a quick resolution (Nicolson, 2013). Cyril Ramaphosa is a renowned businessman, and politician in South Africa. Currently, as a leading member within the African National Congress (ANC), he is the Deputy President of South Africa. Ironically Ramaphosa is also a renowned Apartheid-era freedom fighter, who lobbied vehemently on behalf of mine workers (Munusamy, 2012). At the time of the strike Ramaphosa was a shareholder in Lonmin (Miners Shot Down, 2014). From the evidence it appears Ramaphosa’s interference was twofold. As a shareholder he had a vested interest in a resolution, and irrespective of his intentions, it is clear his intervention had a large effect on the decision makers. Secondly there was a political angle; the working class vote in South Africa is vital to win any election. Issues of capital ownership are also huge in South Africa politics. Evidence indicates Ramaphosa was fearful the strike might spread and allow political opponents (opponents of the ANC) to capitalize not only on disenfranchised miner workers, but also the issue of mine ownership (Nicolson, 2013).


Using the police as a buffer, Lonmin managed to escalate violence rather than engage the miners in a sincere manner. Disturbingly the police sided with Lonmin and caved to downwards political pressure to the detriment of the miners. Lonmin and the police also failed miserably at capitalizing on the commendable negotiation efforts made my Joseph Mathunjwa, again to the detriment of the miners.


Frankel, P., 2013. Between The Rainbows and The Rain. 1 ed. Johannesburg: Agency for Social Reconstruction.

Heywood, A., 2007. Politics. 3rd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Miners Shot Down. 2014. [Film] Directed by Rehad Desai. South Africa: Independent.

Munusamy, R., 2012. Cyril Ramaphosa: The true betrayal. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 20 February 2015].

Ndlovu, M., 2013. Living in the Marikana: The State, Capital and society. International Journal of African Renaissance Studies, 8(1), pp. 46-58.

Nicolson, G., 2013. Marikana massacre: SAPS, Lonmin, Ramaphosa & time for blood. Miners’ blood.. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 13 January 2015].

Smith, D., 2012. South African police shoot dead striking miners. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 13 January 2015].

Smith, D., 2013. South Africa reports of police brutality. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 13 January 2015].

Unknown, 2012. Transcript of Meeting Between National Commisioner and Lonmin on 14 August. [Online]
Available at:
[Accessed 23 February 2015].






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