“In my wildest imagination I could not expect something like that,” Michael Gomes da Costa, vice president of Lonmin’s Karee mine, told the inquiry in Pretoria.
“To think so many lives were lost stunned me. I cannot imagine the pain felt by people who lost husbands, brothers.”
Evidence leader, Geoff Budlender SC, said he would argue that Lonmin’s refusal to talk directly with strikers resulted in the deaths.
Da Costa said Lonmin could not send management to the hill in Marikana, North West, where the strikers had gathered because the situation was volatile and uncontrollable.
“It would be irresponsible to send an executive… my understanding is there was no delegation put forward to speak to management,” he said.
The commission, chaired by retired Judge Ian Farlam, is investigating the deaths of 44 people during the violent wage-related strike at Lonmin’s platinum mining operations in Marikana.
On August 16, 2012, 34 people, mostly mineworkers, were shot dead by police trying to disarm and disperse them. Ten people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed during the preceding week.
The inquiry heard earlier on Tuesday that Lonmin was behind in paying salary increases in June 2012.
“At the time, I saw what had happened at Impala [Platinum]. They had given an increase to rock drill operators,” Da Costa said.
“I knew there was a gap because we had fallen behind.”
He said he knew Impala Platinum had increased its rock drillers’ salaries before Lonmin’s miners approached him for a meeting.
About 300 miners approached Da Costa on June 21, 2012. He asked to speak with two representatives of the group.
They told him they wanted a basic salary of R12,500 for Karee’s rock drill operators.
“I pointed out that the increase is extremely high and unaffordable. They thought it was the number that would reward them for the work they do. They said it was a good number,” Da Costa said.
He told the miners there were structures to deal with wage increases. They responded that they did not want the unions to be involved.
The miners told Da Costa their work was physically demanding and the hours were long.
Da Costa said he told the miners he would refer the matter to Lonmin’s executive committee.
At that time there was a two-year wage deal in place and new negotiations were to take place in 2013.
He said the meeting was cordial and the miners were respectful.
Karee’s acting human resources manager, July Tiro, was with Da Costa at the meeting.
The commission continues on Thursday.