“We submit that… far from being the villain in this story, the response of Amcu’s leadership was responsible and constructive,” Heidi Barnes, for the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), told the commission in Pretoria in her closing arguments.
Barnes said that when the strike began, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa had tried to find a solution impeded by Lonmin’s position that Amcu did not have bargaining rights to represent workers at their operations.
This was even though Amcu had a host of rights at Lonmin’s operations, including offices, shop stewards, permanent representatives at Lonmin forums and committees, and had majority representation at one of Lonmin’s mines.
“We submit there can be no doubt that Amcu in those circumstances was entitled to propose a meeting to discuss a problem involving its members… That proposal of course fell on deaf ears,” Barnes said.
Mathunjwa had made the proposal for a meeting to resolve the situation five times between August 5 and 16, which was not heeded.
On August 13, Lonmin asked for Amcu’s intervention in the strike, which Amcu did not refuse even though they had no bargaining rights.
Doing so would have been a “cynical position to adopt. It would have been cynical leadership”.
Amcu subsequently on that morning sent their national organiser and general secretary to meet striking miners and Lonmin management, where the union denounced violence.
“On August 14, Amcu publicly denounced the violence that was happening at Marikana,” Barnes said.
On August 15, while being interviewed on a radio station, Mathunjwa was the first person to suggest that all stakeholders meet, go to the hill where the strikers were gathered, and address them.
“That was in fact the fourth time Mr Mathunjwa had made that proposal during that week,” Barnes said.
He later went to speak to striking workers without assurances from Lonmin and without a police escort.
“It’s clear from the transcript that he tried to persuade the strikers to put down their weapons and go back to work,” she said.
“When Lonmin refused to receive feedback and refused to speak to him and police no longer engaged him, he went back to the koppie [hill] and went down on his knees and begged them [to disperse].
“Had Mr Mathunjwa’s proposal for a central forum been accepted the massacre would have been averted,” Barnes said.
The commission is investigating the deaths of 44 people at Lonmin’s platinum mining operations in Marikana, North West, in the strike-related unrest in August 2012.
Thirty-four people, mostly striking mineworkers, were shot dead in a clash with police on August 16, 2012.
More than 70 people were wounded and more than 200 were arrested.
The police were apparently trying to disarm and disperse them.
In the preceding week, 10 people, including two police officers and two Lonmin security officers, were killed.