Opinion 18.8.2016 08:43 am

Marikana and Oscar show the two worlds we live in

The time for big men to stand up and do something has unfortunately passed. South Africa has hit a new moral low.

Government’s “handling” of the Marikana massacre is indicative of the two worlds South Africans live in.

In one, there is a government that is a totally dysfunctional, due to a lack of leadership and political will to take unpopular decisions. (It is almost so dysfunctional that conspiracy theorists could have a field day).

In the second, government efficiency trumps all expectations and shows what can actually be achieved.

The first is the Marikana massacre and the second the prosecution of Oscar Pistorius – two violent events that put South Africa on the front pages (and at the top of news websites) of most leading international news titles for the wrong reasons.

Yet government and, more specifically, the criminal justice system’s response could not have been more divergent.

The facts speak for themselves:


On August 16 2012, 34 Marikana mine workers were mowed down by police with automatic weapons. Yet, four years later not a single person has been charged. (In contrast, 17 workers still face criminal charges.)

Not a single policeman, officer or any government official has been held accountable. The process’s only major outcome was whether Riah Phiyega was fit to remain the national police commissioner – but we are still waiting for a verdict on that.

The silence of President Jacob Zuma and his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, who was a member of the Lonmin board at the time, is also deafening. Not one of these leaders has apologised or publicly voiced his views on the event and it seems as if they avoid the topic at all costs.

Zuma did not attend the funerals of any of the victims and hasn’t even visited Marikana since the event. Ramaphosa walked out during an interview screened as part of the Emmy award-winning documentary Miners Shot Down. (If you haven’t yet watched it, watch it right now. It’s worth the time.)

Oscar Pistorius

In startling contrast, Oscar Pistorius’s prosecution is probably the best example of how well the criminal justice system can work. Pistorius shot Reeva Steenkamp on February 14 2013 and was found guilty of culpable homicide on September 11 2014. This judgment was successfully appealed by the State and Pistorius was found guilty of murder on December 3 2015.

Despite an unsuccessful application to the Constitutional Court for leave to appeal, the saga ended on June 15, when his sentence was extended to six years. This whole process took 1 400 days – three years and 11 months.

Farlam report

But back to Marikana. Zuma’s most recent comment on the event was on June 25 2015, when he released the Farlam report – nearly three years later. In the speech, Zuma’s apparent contempt is almost tangible.

He thanked the participants of the inquiry, including the families and friends of the slain workers, but did not offer them any sympathy in his 2 430-word speech. He did, however, find words to sympathise with people who were killed after the massacre: “Our hearts also go out to the families of those persons who were killed after August 16 2012 whose murders fell outside the scope of the inquiry.”

It is no wonder that nothing has happened since.


Government’s inaction against Lonmin is also quite staggering.

Amnesty International released a report on Monday describing the current living conditions of workers – one of the underlying reasons for the Marikana workers’ protest – as “appalling”. The body said the “company’s failure to improve employees’ housing is baffling and irresponsible in the extreme.”

This follows Lonmin committing to build 5 500 houses and upgrade hostels.

This did not happen. Allegedly the hostels were upgraded, but only three houses were built.

Lonmin responded to Amnesty by saying that “the challenges of housing, not only in South Africa, but globally, especially in regions of accelerated urbanisation, are well documented. In this regard, Lonmin acknowledges that the housing situation, around its and other employers’ operations near Marikana, remains a challenge. Despite that, we made a start in addressing this.”

It went further to say that it had spent R387 million on upgrading hostels; that the first phase of an apartment project was completed, and that it had donated land to government for housing developments.

Nothing about the non-delivery of the houses it promised.

Sinister agenda?

Zuma and the government’s handling of the Marikana massacre is a worse indictment on South Africa than the actual event was in 2012. A moment of madness has become a travesty of humanity, which is even more shameful as it happened in South Africa.

The time for big men to stand up and do something has unfortunately passed. South Africa has hit a new moral low.

This probably played some part in the sharp decline in ANC support. One cannot think that there may be a much more sinister agenda, but I will leave this for the conspiracy theorists.

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Moneyweb editor Ryk van Niekerk

Moneyweb editor Ryk van Niekerk

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