Khulumani – 25 years on, little has changed

Khulumani has requested the urgent intervention of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions

On 2 September 2012, Khulumani Support Group, the national membership organisation of some 80,000 survivors of gross violations of human rights associated with apartheid political violence, submitted an urgent appeal to the office of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Professor Christof Heyns, to conduct an independent assessment of whether some of the killings of the Marikana mineworkers on 16 August 2012 could be viewed as meeting the criteria for extrajudicial killings. The decision to lodge this urgent appeal followed the emergence of evidence suggesting that some of the miners from the Lonmin Platinum Mine who lost their lives at Marikana in North West Province, appear to have been shot at close range in an area known as ‘Small Koppies’, while trying to escape from police shootings.

Khulumani calls for justice for the Lonmin mine workers and their families – as well as for the 1987 Sasol workers.

Prof Njabulu Ndebele

For Khulumani, the resonances of the Marikana massacre with experiences of some of their members are particularly strong. Some 2,400 former Sasol workers who are now Khulumani members, were dismissed en masse after their participation in a strike that commenced on 1 October 1987 in Sasolburg. This followed a worker ballot the previous day that supported taking strike action. Despite their best and continuing efforts, justice has continued to evade these Sasol ex-workers to the present. Because of their own bitter experiences, the Sasol ex-workers expressed concern that the Lonmin mineworkers should not similarly find themselves still battling for justice twenty-five years after the shameful Marikana Massacre of August 2012. This would be 2037 – seven years after the target date for the would-be realisation of South Africa’s National Development Plan 2030.

Post-1994 legislation has failed to transform apartheid repressive legislation

In 1987 Sasol One was identified as a National Key Point under 1980 legislation that sought to prevent “loss, damage, disruption or immobilization (that) may prejudice the Republic” at any site of vital concern to the then government. Sasol One was particularly strategic to the South African Apartheid government as it produced oil from coal at the time of a universal embargo by the United Nations on the sale of oil to South Africa. The purpose of the 1980 Act was to protect places and areas deemed to be of strategic national interest against sabotage or other forms of attack. Organising worker protest action for better wages in such an environment required particular courage. This was the courage of the 2,400 workers who made a stand in 1987.

Marikana near Rustenburg was the site of a similar stand for better wages and safer working conditions in the Lonmin platinum mine in August 2012. Although the Lonmin mine has not been declared a National Key Point in terms of the 2007 National Key Points, Places of Importance and Strategic Installations Act, almost exactly the same tactics have been applied at Marikana as were meted out to the Sasol strikers of 1987. Platinum is clearly important for South Africa’s mineral-dependent economy.

Using police to break up strikes

In 1987, the Sasol strike was violently broken when Sasol’s Management called for the assistance of the ‘riot police.’ As strikers gathered as planned on the morning of 1 October, 1987, at the Boiketlong Community Hall in Zamdela where they expected to meet Sasol’s Management for wage negotiations, they were brutally dispersed by riot police and all 2,400 were summarily dismissed. The ex-workers tell of some 77 individuals dying as a result of police action along with vigilante action that tended to accompany strikes. Some died as a result of deterioration in their health resulting from injuries and other associated illnesses. Sasol has accepted no responsibility, claiming that the deaths and injuries were the result of police action, not company action. A similar situation is likely to transpire at Marikana, despite the protections offered to workers by the country’s Constitution which protects the right to strike in Section 23(1)(c) with Section 17 protecting the right to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present a petition. How is it possible that these rights of the Lonmin mine workers were not adequately protected?

Securing justice for strikers and for communities around mines

The Sasol ex-workers have not bee paid out their accrued benefits over the past 25 years, despite the company presenting itself as compliant with human rights norms and standards. Presently, the Department of Labour in Sasolburg is working to assist ex-workers to access their certificates of service to facilitate their applications for the pay-out of their benefits from 25 years ago. Amongst the ex-workers are 22 who served more than 30 years with Sasol, 40 with service records between 26 and 30 years, 12 with service records between 21 and 25 years, 150 with service records between 16 and 20 years, 270 with service records between 11 and 15 years, 175 with service records between 6 and 10 years and the remainder with service records of between 1 and 5 years

Despite Sasol’s claims that it works to improve the quality of life in the communities in which it operates, Sasol has to date made no provisions for its ex-workers to benefit from the roughly R80 million it claims to invest each year in community activities and initiatives such as support to ‘education; health and welfare; environment; job creation/capacity building; and arts, culture and sports development’. Sasol failed to approve the application of its ex-workers for Sasol’s Inzalo shareholding scheme and has failed to respond to the Sasol ex-workers’ proposals to date.

Working for an inclusive economy that respects and protects workers

Given their own bitter experience, Sasol’s ex-workers are concerned that the families of deceased Lonmin mine workers should not become forgotten casualties of the Lonmin August 2012 industrial action. Khulumani views the Marikana Massacre of 34 Lonmin mine workers as a watershed event in which workers who were trying to assert their rights in the Constitution, were violently suppressed. Khulumani demands that:

each of the families of the dead and injured Lonmin mine workers is identified and provided for given the loss of their critical breadwinners;
benefits due to the families of the deceased Lonmin mine workers are paid out without delay;
initiatives to improve the quality of life of residents of the communities surrounding Lonmin’s mines are identified and supported financially;
employee share ownership benefit schemes are put in place urgently at Lonmin and at Sasol to provide for both worker and ex-worker participation;
Sasol ex-workers receive pay-outs of their accrued benefits along with 25 years of interest;
Sasol ex-workers’ application for Inzalo shares be re-viewed; and
apartheid-derived or apartheid-informed legislation is removed from South Africa’s statute books.

Professor Njabulo Ndebele warns us that “the tragedy at Marikana reflects the loss of the vision of liberation and the onset of repression”. It reveals in the words of Fanon scholar Nigel Gibson, the failure of post-apartheid South Africa to transform nationalism into a programme of social and economic transformation that puts people’s needs first. Instead we note that “the state, having inherited all apartheid’s apparatuses, is becoming increasing sophisticated and authoritarian against opponents, real or imagined”.

The challenge of turning back and reclaiming the vision of liberation, is a responsibility we all share. We dare not fail those who struggled so hard and who suffered so much for that vision, amongst them the thousands of Khulumani members. We will not give the struggle away.

Issued by Khulumani Support Group

For information, please contact:

Dr Marjorie Jobson, National Director on 082 268 0223 or
Ms Nomarussia Bonase, National Capacity-Building Facilitator on 082 751 9903.

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