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'Lonmin workers seen as murderers'

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By Jonisayi Maromo

Rustenburg - Lonmin mine management did not want to negotiate with striking workers because they were “criminals and murderers”, the Farlam commission heard in Rustenburg on Thursday.

That was the evidence of Reverend Johannes Seoka, Anglican bishop of Pretoria, which was read out to the commission by Lonmin’s legal representative, advocate Schalk Burger, SC.

The clergyman was taken to task over his evidence, which suggested that Lonmin missed an opportunity to engage and negotiate with strikers on August 16.

Thirty-four striking miners were shot dead on that day and 78 wounded when police tried to disperse the protesters, who had gathered on a hill near the mine.

In the preceding week, 10 people, including two police officers and two security guards, had been hacked to death in violent encounters at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana.

The bishop was part of a group of religious leaders who mediated talks between the strikers and the mine management.

Seoka told the commission on Thursday that when he extended the protesters' request for executives to come to the koppie and negotiate, the language used by the Lonmin representatives was dismissive.

“When I spoke to the protesters, they did not show any signs of anger. The Lonmin representatives I engaged were angry, used strong language and were in denial,” said Seoka.

“My engagement was to say to Lonmin, 'these people are ready to listen'. They asked for the employer to come and talk to them,” he said.

Burger said Lonmin had reasonable grounds not to visit the koppie, in light of the violence and murders which had taken place on August 12 and 13.

He said mine representatives had told the clergyman that the gathering was illegal and should not be legitimised.

Seoka denied the claims.

“The word “legitimised” was not used in my presence that day ,” he said.

As the debate continued, Seoka requested to switch to speaking Zulu from English. He later reverted to English in some instances.

Burger said that on August 16, the area around the koppie had been declared a security zone by the SA Police Service, which meant that the area was cordoned off by police.

There was argument between Seoka and Burger over the exact time the clergyman had gone to the koppie to interact with the protesters.

Seoka said he did not know the time as he had not checked his watch.

Burger produced photographs taken by police indicating that Seoka was at the koppie at 1.47pm.

The commission, led by retired judge Ian Farlam, is holding public hearings at the Rustenburg Civic Centre.

On Wednesday, videos which captured the chaos that erupted on August 16 were screened before the commission of inquiry.

The snippets of cellphone videos and photos were taken by a police elite tactical response team unit that intervened to quell the prolonged wage-related protests.

Sapa

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