The judgement took just five minutes. The Constitutional Court dismissed a request by 270 injured and arrested mineworkers from Marikana’s Lonmin mine for leave to appeal for funding from the state for their legal representation at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry. The mineworkers were not even given an opportunity to state their case. Instead the court chose to duck the issue and based its judgment on a technicality. The Constitutional Court, the highest court in the land, ruled that it was not competent to deal with a matter being handled by a lower court.
This was a lost opportunity for the Constitutional Court to level the playing field and to affirm the new human rights culture that this society is committed to building after the brutality of apartheid. It was also an insult to the workers who died, and all other victims of police brutality and state repression in the history of South Africa. The reality is, each day that the commission sits, these mineworkers face a David and Goliath battle against a state, a police force and Lonmin, all of whom possess formidable funds to employ an army of top lawyers and researchers.
The spirit of callousness against the miners who were attacked by police on the 16th August doesn’t stop with the withholding of state funds to meet their legal representation. The North West ANC failed to attend the highly successful commemoration rally in Marikana last Friday (16th August). This was an opportunity to show their respect to the families of all those who had died and the injured and arrested survivors of the Marikana massacre. Their refusal to participate was shocking even to the national ANC, who condemned their action in a press statement the following day. The commemoration was planned as a day of unity and healing and a call to continue the fight for a living wage. Many political parties shared a platform to give messages of support to the miners and their families. The NUM was invited to share this platform. They also refused to attend, despite the fact that at the time of the massacre, many who lost their lives were in fact NUM members.
A year on from the massacre, there has been no justice, no move by mining companies to address the issue of a living wage and now to add insult to injury, miners at Anglo Platinum mines face the company’s decision to go ahead with the retrenchment of around 7000 jobs. Many from Anglo Platinum, as did those from Implats, joined their comrades from Lonmin at the commemoration on the 16th August. It is no wonder that workers across the platinum sector are beginning to speak in one voice in combining the demand for a living wage with those of justice against state brutality and in defence of jobs.
The pursuit of legal and peaceful channels by the miners in their quest for justice for those who were arrested, injured and killed has been a futile exercise. The workers clearly cannot expect justice or truth from the courts of the land and even less from the Farlam Commission where the odds are stacked against them. The only option left open is to boycott the commission and to take collective protest action to demand that the government pay the legal fees of the miners’ representatives. This demand should now be merged with the continued fight for a living wage and for defence of jobs at Anglo Platinum and taken up across the platinum belt.