South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said Lonmin Plc management and workers, unions and the government were all to blame for the deaths of 44 people at Lonmin’s Marikana mine in 2012.
“We all had a role to play and somewhere along the line we may have not fulfilled them,” Ramaphosa told a commission of inquiry set up to probe the violence. “The responsibility has to be collective. As a nation we should dip our heads and accept that we did fail the miners of Marikana and their families.”
Thirty-four people died and more than 70 were injured on Aug. 16, 2012, when police opened fire on a crowd of striking workers at the mine, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg. In the previous week, 10 people including police officers were killed in fighting at the site, sparked by clashes between labor unions.
Before taking up his current post in May, Ramaphosa was a non-executive director of Lonmin and chairman of Shanduka Group Ltd., which indirectly held a 9 percent stake in two of Lonmin’s South African units.
While Ramaphosa denied accusations by some unionists and opposition leaders that he used his political clout to break the strike to protect his financial interests, he conceded that he failed to pay adequate attention to the wage negotiations.
“I should also have explored the unintended consequences of paying miners a living-out allowance” instead of providing them with accommodation, he said today at the inquiry, led by retired judge Ian Farlam, in the capital, Pretoria. “The living conditions that workers were exposed to are not something I would be proud to associate myself with, in fact they are appalling, they are inhumane. I should have paid, and indeed, that board should have paid, close attention to” that.
Dali Mpofu, a lawyer for the families of the some of the slain miners and those who were injured during the police shooting, said Ramaphosa should be charged with murder because of the pressure he placed on officials to take action against the strikers.
Ramaphosa said as a non-executive director of Lonmin, he wasn’t involved in the day-to-day running of the company and had limited information about what it was doing to resolve the strike.
“I was given information about the deaths of people and that is what I reacted to,” he said. “My intervention had to do with people losing their lives.”
Mpofu responded: “No, your intervention had nothing to do with people losing their lives. It had everything to do with your financial interests and the fact that your shares were diminishing as a result of the strike.”
Ramaphosa said he disagreed with Mpofu. “Financial gain was not even an issue,” he said.
Shanduka invested 300 million rand ($28 million) into Lonmin and “that 300 million was lost, all of it, in 2011,” Ramaphosa said. “It was a catastrophic loss for Shanduka, we did not expect to recoup any of the money and in fact we have written it off.”
Ramaphosa owned 29.6 percent of Shanduka, which had a net asset value of 8.8 billion rand at the end of last year. In May, he announced he would exit the company to focus on his government job.
“I deeply regret the deaths of all those people who died at Marikana,” Ramaphosa said. “I did not foresee the fateful events that unfolded. I did not foresee that further loss of life would ensue following the intervention of the police.”
A handful of protesters briefly disrupted Ramaphosa’s testimony, yelling that he had killed the miners and should be tried for murder.
“Ramaphosa, you sent police to shoot us so you could get money,” one of the miners who was injured at Marikana shouted as the deputy president ended his testimony.