AMCU’s Mathunjwa: Farlam Commission failed to uncover Marikana truths

AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa says the Farlam Commission Report failed to uncover the truth about the Marikana Massacre. He describes the events leading up to the tragedy and the ‘cover-up’ that ensued. Mathunjwa says the working conditions of mineworkers reflect the apartheid structure of the mining sector and blames the poor wages of workers, tax evasion and price fixing on the part of the mining companies as the leading causes of instability in the sector. – Tim Modise

The AMCU President, Mr. Joseph Mathunjwa: thanks very much for talking to us here on our Transformation section. I appreciate you making the time to be with us.

Thank you very much.

Now, the Farlam Commission has already presented its report to President. The President has made it public – finally. It makes all sorts of recommendations and somewhere in there; it also suggests that the unions, including AMCU, must be held liable for the tragic events of the Marikana tragedy. What’s your view about it?

I find it very unfortunate for the Farlam Commission to have such findings against AMCU. As you’ll remember, AMCU was the only union that tried to save the day. No other union walked an extra mile, compared to AMCU – me, in particular. I’m humbled by the Commission, by noting the effort, but that effort was not by Joseph Mathunjwa representing his family. I was there on behalf of AMCU.

Let’s go back. I’ll come back to this point in time, of the report itself on the events of the day. You tried to calm the situation. Just take me back to the day. What transpired there? You were there. You can give me a first-hand account, but you were also demonised after the fact. Tell me.

Yes. As you’ll remember, there was an interview in SAfm by Mr. Xolani Gwala and the (then) President of AMCU, Mr Zokwana. Subsequently, we were encouraged to go to Marikana, which I did. I just left the studio.

Mr Zokwana, being President of NUM?

Then I left. Later, he joined. We had a meeting with SAPS in the LPD offices. They told us that they need our intervention to assist. Of course, we did go to the mountain. Mr. Zokwana went first and apparently, the workers weren’t happy with the manner in which he addressed them. Subsequently, it was my turn. My first approach to them was to say, “What are your challenges? What are your issues?” Then they spoke about the money they want (R12, 500). Then they said, “There’s a way. How can we engage with this thing?” They said, “It’s late now. Come tomorrow morning” and then we left back to the JOC with the SAPS.

The JOC, being the Joint Operation Centre.

Then we gave a debriefing of what happened on the mountain on the 15th. The SAPS were (kind of) convinced that ‘tomorrow the strike will be over’ because the workers were simply saying, “Yes, we understand. We need to engage with the employer and then we can leave the mountain. We agreed that the following morning on the 16th, I would meet with the employer and suggest a way the workers would return to work after they confirm that they would be negotiating the R12, 500.” All of that, and on the morning, management was nowhere to be found. No one wanted to engage with me on the 16th. Later on, while I was still waiting in their main offices when the opened the boardroom door, I saw SAPS inside. There was media, National Union of Mineworkers, and Lonmin management. Then I asked, ‘What is this meeting all about?” They said, “No, it’s a press conference”.

I asked, “Why are we not invited? What are we going to do with engagement last night?” Management said they were no longer prepared to do anything about that. Then Mbombo (the Provincial Commissioner) phoned me through Bernard Mokwena’s cellphone. He said, “We are sitting here. We are late. You promised people that you would come back. Today, this thing must be finished. It’s D-Day. You promised people. People are sitting there waiting for you.” I said, “I don’t even know who you are. I only know Mr. Mpembe, not you.” Subsequently, we went to the JOC. We met them and he introduced himself. I said, “But you were not part of this yesterday. We agreed that management would agree on the way workers would be engaged in order to leave the mountain.” They said, “No, I’m here today. I’m in charge. Mpembe is no longer there.”

Then you could see the police now putting themselves into an ‘A-mode’, taking the rifles and getting into the cars. Then I said, “All right. Fine. Can you assist me with a vehicle because yesterday you said that no one is allowed without any escort from the police?” They said, “No, there is no escort”. I asked, “Where are the cars?” They said, “There are no cars to escort you.” Then I turned around and behind the offices, there were SAPS cars. I said, “But there are cars here. Why don’t you want to escort me?” They said, “No, they are not interested.” Then I took my car with other comrades and drove to the mountain. I said to the workers, “Comrades, we have to leave here. The decision has been taken. We are going to be murdered here. Leave this place. The decision has been taken. Rather leave this mountain.”

Then I pleaded with them and I even said, “Comrades, the life of a black man is very cheap, in Africa. You are going to be killed and replaced. You’ll never realise your demand. Even those who will be employed in your stead will never realise that demand you put forward. Let’s rather leave the mountain. Let’s go through the CCMA. Let’s have a proper strike certificate and be protected, and then we’ll pursue your same demand.” Then they said, “No. the least you can do for us is call the Employer to come and confirm that if we leave this mountain; indeed, he will engage with us further. We understand that R12, 500.00 cannot be achieved overnight, but we need a commitment.” Then I went back to the Employer. The Employer said they are not prepared. I phoned Xolani Gwala. I said, “Xolani, things have changed. How can you assist me in phoning the management?”

“The management have moved the goalposts. They no longer want to engage with regard to the issues of the workers.” Then I went back to the workers. The workers said, “Thank you. You’ve done your best. We are not going to attack any police. We are sitting here. We are not going anywhere until the Employer comes and addresses us.” Then they pleaded with me to say, “Leave. You’ll be the one to tell the story of what happened before they even kill you.” As I was still talking to them, you could see the Nyalas pulling the barbed wire in. Subsequently, I left and right at the back, there were tactical teams, which were heavily armed. I couldn’t even pass there. They had to phone the management and I had to identify myself. It took about 20 minutes before I was given…

Let me ask you this question, then. You were there. You saw and tried to end the whole thing, and get the people off that hillside.


Then you ultimately managed to leave, but you got a sense that this tragedy…this massacre was going to happen.

Definitely. I could see because of the manner in which I treated by Mbombo (the Provincial Commissioner), and the fact that management no longer wanted to engage in anything regarding the workers. You could see the movement of the police taking their rifles and positioning themselves, you could see clearly that the decision had been taken.

How SA's top cartoonist Zapiro viewed the Marikana report
How SA’s top cartoonist Zapiro viewed the Marikana report. More at

After the whole event/tragedy/massacre happened, we had the Farlam Commission and all people went to give their own evidence there before the Commission, and we have this report. Is it a reflection – to your mind – of what happened, including the recommendations?

I think the recommendations were rather disappointing. For example (1) if you would suggest findings against AMCU and then you don’t have findings against the executives. 2. During the Commission, the State President changed the terms of reference, suggesting that there should be no findings against the executives.

The executives, meaning…

Nathi Mthethwa… the Government, generally. Therefore, you could see that this Commissioner was no longer going to unearth the truth of what had really happened.

What is the truth, according to you?

The truth is that there was political interference with this. If you remember, there was a recording where Mbombo was discussing (with Bernard) where they were saying, “We need to move fast before Malema comes and addresses this issue.” You could see there was a political issue. The issue is this: if Malema were to come and solve the issue, what next? I think that was a very noble thing, which they could have accepted. Furthermore, with the evidence that was presented by Advocate Dali in terms of the communications between Mr Cyril Ramaphosa and Nathi going down to Phiyega and to the (then) Minister of Department of Minerals and Resources, Susan Shabangu and changing the unprotected strike to be characterised as a criminal activity. That was political pressure, which was put upon them.

The report has also come up with a number of recommendations. One includes having to investigate the fitness of the National Police Commissioner to hold office – that’s one of them. In addition, there’s the question of compensation. Deal with the first point, first – of the National Commissioner. Do you think she’s been made a scapegoat here or is it reasonable that she should be investigated?

Regarding the ‘fitness for office’, she was not fit from the first day she was appointed. There’s no need to investigate that. Everyone knows. It’s common cause that she was not fit. The least the Commission could have done in making findings and recommendations is for the State and Lonmin to pay compensation for those that were injured and those that were killed during that strike.

How do you feel about the way the President the matter?

I suppose that even if the Commission did not make recommendations, you would expect that the Government – on its side – as well as Lonmin would say, “We will provide this type of compensation anyway.” Firstly, I feel that the Presidency showed no sensitivity, in the manner in which the report was released. As you’ll remember, at the High Court they recommended that 48 hours should be given in order to prepare the widows and the injured, to have proper people close. Possibly, religious people and social workers to comfort and give guidance to this report. At the end of the day, it never happened. As I’ve said earlier on, the least the Government should have said was ‘fine, it happened. How do we heal? What process should we embark on? First step: I will compensate for those that were injured’ and then Lonmin, ‘I will do this on humanitarian grounds. This is what I’m going to do’, but there’s none of this.

What would you like to see happen?

I would like to see the truth. I believe that the truth hasn’t been told.

In summary, what is the truth?

The truth is who gave instruction to kill the mineworkers who were fighting for a living wage?

AMCU then went on to lead a very protracted strike in the platinum sector in particular, early last year. To a large extent, it’s being blamed for the slow growth of the economy. That strike was ill advised and was damaging to the economy. What’s your comment to these accusations and criticisms?

One should start by saying, “Whose economy is it? Whom does it benefit at the end of the day?” The workers embarked on this strike (our members) because they see no significance in reporting to work since the money they get or the salaries they earn doesn’t make economic sense to them. If they were earning a living wage, I don’t think any worker would have embarked on such a protracted strike. Because of the mere peanuts they’re earning, it was easy for them to sustain the strike for five months.

Did the workers achieve the objective? Is AMCU satisfied with the outcomes of that strike? What should happen in the mining sector anyway, to improve the situation?

I don’t think we can say we’re entirely satisfied, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. Remember, for the last 20 years, workers’ increases were regulated by consumer price index. If the percentile is five percent or seven percent on an employee who’s earning R5,000, you could imagine that, that is nothing compared to the person whose maybe earning in a higher bracket. Therefore, I think that for any person who’s going to be employed at any of these three platinum mines after this agreement, there will be no-one earning less than R8000.00 as a basic salary. Some of them did achieve the R12,500 last year. Others are going to achieve it this year and as we’re moving forward, I think it was a good step. The issue of the economy itself: the type of economy we have doesn’t give people a better life for all at the end of the day. The same structural Apartheid pay that was designed in 1880 when gold was discovered is the same structure that is used even in 2015. Until such time that this is changed, there will be no difference.

There is an argument that if the mining companies increase the wages of the workers substantially, they will have to lay off more people, the mines themselves will not be viable, and investors will get out of South Africa.

I don’t buy that notion. In the gold sector, they never embarked on any strike after the agreement they signed in 2013, but Harmony has been laying people off. There is retrenchment all over. There is restructuring, but there was no demand for R12,500, so I don’t think it’s an issue. If the investors decide to go away, they’re not just going away because of the labour laws or the high demands of the workers. These companies are making huge profits in this country.

How can you tell? They argue that they are not making money.

Okay. If they are not making money, let me draw your attention to the following information. Anglo Gold Ashanti: in 2008, there was a meltdown in the economy, but they were able to give their executives a salary increase, from 100 to 155 percent of which, there was about 87.5 million p.a. payment for the executives, including shares. They moved from 87.5 million to 213 million and the production was down by 20.8 percent. How do you justify that?

Are we talking in Rands here – R87.5m to R213m?

Yes. The fact of the matter is that 155 percent and the production was down by 20.8 percent. How do they justify such increments? However, when the workers asks for (only) R12, 500, everyone is crying as if we are asking for something, which is not achievable.

What do you think needs to happen in the mining sector then? What needs to change to transform/improve the conditions of the workers on the one side and (2) for the mining sector to help the economy of the country to grow, and for that sector to make a meaningful contribution to the wellbeing of this country?

When we see the workers and the community having a meaningful share in these minds that is when they will have a say in the world created by the profit. Then we can see. This issue of, let’s say having a 26 percent for the individual person – I don’t think that will be a distribution of the economy at all. We just create wealth for particular sections of people at the expense of many. Those are the things, which one needs to look at and I think the wage-led economy where workers will get more money/higher salaries will stimulate the economy in terms of demands as well. Any person who has money cannot sit at home. You have to go and spend it but if the workers or the majority of people don’t have money, there will be no stimulation of the economy at all.

We have been free, politically speaking, in South Africa for more than 21 years now. Do you think that this freedom has cascaded into the mining sector, that it has transformed substantially now over this period of time?

I think that the Marikana Massacre is a result of the fact that we’re not economically free. The political freedom we achieved by dispensation in 1994, was only for political reasons. Who’s going to be a black president or a black minister, etcetera? The issues that concern the nation and which can sustain the nation – the economic transformation – is the one in which, they only engage informally and not formally. As a result, we see what we saw in Marikana.

Some of the commentators are saying that foreign investors in particular, are very concerned about South Africa and are careful not to invest here because of instability in mining. To your mind, as one of the prominent people in this sector, what do you think will bring about the stability of the sector as well as make the sector attractive to foreign investors?

Firstly, mining is not like a factory. It’s a long-term investment. It’s cyclical. It’s like putting your net in the sea. When you are fishing, you wait and wait until you have that big catch. Therefore, I think the only/other way to assist the sector in being sustainable is ‘pay your workers. Do not let the workers be treated as a cost’. They should be treated as a resource because the more these companies treat workers as a cost, the easier retrenchment becomes. Once you treat them as a resource though, you’ll try to save them. Give people the money. If one CO can earn over R1m… Really, what education does he have that qualifies him to earn that money? Remember, during the five-month strike, the executives at Anglo paid themselves about R50m, but there was no production. Those are the things, which we need to look at. These CO’s: the majority of them are white. They don’t have any black-consciousness of knowing where we’re coming from. It’s about themselves and their families at the end of the day, at the expense of the nation. I’m not saying they mustn’t be paid, but not at the expense of the nation.

What do you recommend then? One brief thought.

One cannot have a tailor-made solution in these challenges South Africa is facing, but we need to have a type of industrialisation beneficiation. Stop taking out the mineral as raw as it is because that will create employment and it will create more skills within the country. By taking all these minerals abroad – as raw as it is -, it doesn’t help us. You’ll remember there was a finding (Global something) in the U.S. that about R300bn has left South Africa in 2012. Again, with (then) State President Thabo Mbeki’s findings for AU Reports, it’s about R50bn leaving the continent every year. What is happening? We have the very same challenges in these companies. Tax evasion and price fixing. An example was Lonmin. During the five-month strike, AMCU came up with that information. Did the Government do anything about that? Nothing. All of those things, which have been stolen from this country and is not accountable, is what makes the life of the mineworker and all the people of South Africa suffer and live in poverty from generation to generation. Look. Now we’re going for wage negotiations. With this tax evasion, it’s not only Lonmin. All these companies are doing the same thing and then, it suffocates the progress or the social life of every person working in the mining industry.

Mr. Joseph Mathunjwa, thanks very much for talking to us.

Thank you very much. God bless.

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