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Marikana miners and family reflect on commission experiences

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Rafieka Williams
May11/ 2015

As the public awaits President Jacob Zuma’s release of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry report, miners and family members affected by the events of Marikana get a chance to share their experiences of the Commission.

LEGACY: Advocate George Bizos, attended the Wits SRC's One Million, One Month launch at the Wits Great Hall. The Human Rights Lawyer is best known for representing Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela in the Rivonia Trial. Photo: Tendai Dube
MARIKANA ADVOCATE Advocate George Bizos, was among the attendees at the ‘Commissioning the present’ conference this passed weekend. Photo: Tendai Dube

Veteran lawyer and anti-apartheid activist, George Bizos, implored lawyers and organisations to pressure government to accept civil liability for the women and children of the victims of Marikana.

Bizos was speaking at the closure of the Commissioning the Present conference at Wits University on Saturday. The three day conference was organised by Social Economic Rights Institute (SERI) and the Wits History Workshop and took place from May 7-9.

“It gives voice to the victims of the massacre and their families – a group of people who were almost completely left out of the Commission’s work and narrative.”

Dr Julian Brown, a politics lecturer at Wits, and one of the organisers of the event, said the conference had hoped to “bring the voices of academics, lawyers, the families of the deceased, and the miners themselves into conversation with each other, so that we can learn from our different insights”.

Brown added that the conference would “interrogate the ways in which stories about the Marikana massacre have been constructed by the state and other public players – in particular, by the Commission of Inquiry”.

The Marikana Commission of Inquiry, headed by Judge Ian Farlam, was set up to investigate the events of Marikana (which led to the deaths of 44 people, 70 injuries and 250 arrests).

Stuart Wilson, executive director at SERI said the conference was important because, “It gives voice to the victims of the massacre and their families – a group of people who were almost completely left out of the Commission’s work and narrative.”

Unsatisfactory treatment during the Marikana commission of inquiry

A panel of miners and family members of deceased miners were given a platform to share their first hand experiences.

“I know that wasn’t done in order to find out the truth, it was done in order to persecute us.”

From their accounts, it was clear that there is a general belief that police were treated with greater dignity and respect during the Marikana Commission.

“I know that wasn’t done in order to find out the truth, it was done in order to persecute us,” said one of the panellists.

Nathabang Ntsenyeno broke down in tears as she spoke about how she watched her husband being killed in a video that was shown at the Commission. She added that the Commission was unsympathetic towards her, specifically pointed to the use of the term “uneducated” in reference to her and others at the Commission.

Nomasonto Gadlela explained how miners were repeatedly asked the same questions to the point where they felt intimidated.

Bringing together academia and lived experiences 

The conference also hosted academics who presented their work on Marikana.

The scholarly works dealt with topics such as – the lived experiences of men and women in Marikana; the social conditions in which the strike, and then the massacre took place; the role of Lonmin and mining capital, and the role of the police, to name a few.

Something that resonated from the scholarly works to the lived experiences of those affected was the reality of the lives of women in Marikana. Many women in the community have been forced to work in the Lonmin mines after losing their husbands because they have no other form of income or ways of supporting their families.

This has left many of these women feeling as if they are “a laughing stock” but they do it out of desperation, explained Nomfanelo Jali.

President Jacob Zuma has received Judge Farlam’s report and released a statement on May 10 indicating that he would release it publicly “in due course”.

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Rafieka Williams

Rafieka Williams is a Wits Vuvuzela journalist.