Apologists for mass murder
The Morning Star is still in denial about the Marikana massacre, writes Peter Manson
Last month, following the lead of the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, the Morning Star was doing its best to play down the significance of the August 16 2012 Marikana massacre, when 34 striking miners were shot dead by police and a further 78 suffered gunshot wounds.
Cosatu and its largest affiliate, the National Union of Mineworkers, had been complaining in the run-up to the commemorations on the fifth anniversary of the massacre last month that they were not taking into account the fact that others apart from the strikers had been killed around that time. After all, as NUM deputy general secretary William Mabapa was quoted as saying in the Star, “Ten workers, including two police officers and two Lonmin security guards, were killed in the preceding week” and so it was wrong to focus exclusively on the strikers shot by the police.1
Lonmin is the British-owned platinum company that employed the 34 killed miners, but the reason Cosatu wanted to broaden the commemorations is because none of them were NUM members - they had all joined a non-Cosatu affiliate, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which was viewed as a bitter rival. Then there is the small matter of Cosatu’s support, alongside that of the SACP, for the African National Congress - it does not want to focus too much on the mass murder committed by the police under the control of the ANC government.
And let us be clear: what happened in Marikana was indeed mass murder. Police penned in and then gunned down workers who had gathered for ongoing protests - as they were attempting to flee. Sporadic shooting continued for more than half an hour, as police on horseback or in helicopters hunted down individuals desperately trying to get away, shooting several in the back. At least a dozen were picked off in this way, including many as they were trying to surrender.
Survivors tell of being hunted down by officers yelling, “Ja, you cop killers, you cop killers. You are in the shit. We are going to kill you here.”2 Individual police officers were seeking vengeance for the deaths of two of their colleagues, in a battle which saw police tear-gas the strikers and shoot dead three of them. On the day of the slaughter the police’s own photographs showed dead miners who were clearly unarmed, but later images of the same bodies had had weapons placed next to them in an attempt to maintain the pretence that the strikers had launched a violent attack.
The South African Broadcasting Company televised an interview with a police spokesperson just a few hours before the murderous assault began. Provincial police commissioner Nosaziso Mbombo announced her intention to “disarm” the miners and make them leave the “illegal gathering” on a nearby hill, even though it was common ground with no connection to Lonmin. Mbombo declared: “Today we are ending this matter.” She did not reveal that 4,000 rounds of ammunition had been delivered to the police at 6am that morning - they had already been armed with lethal automatic rifles. Without a trace of irony Mbombo declared to a gathering of police officers on August 17 that the previous day’s action had represented “the best of responsible policing”.
The strikers had recently been flocking to join Amcu, formed in 1998, in disgust at the unwillingness of the NUM to fight for a substantial rise in their poverty wages and improvements in their working conditions. Lonmin NUM officials and shop stewards seemed to be no better than company stooges. They not only received release on full pay to fulfil their ‘union duties’, but also had been issued with Lonmin credit cards.
When the strike started on August 10 2012, a turning point occurred when miners marched on the local NUM office demanding support. Officials came out with makeshift weapons and at least one had a firearm. Several shots were fired from the NUM office. It was after this that the strikers themselves started to carry traditional spears and sticks. But workers are not permitted to defend themselves, of course, and an official decision was taken to force the miners to disarm.
On the fateful morning, Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa, having got wind of police plans, pleaded with the strikers to lay down their arms and leave the hill - about 1,000 did so. It was after a further attempt by strike leaders to warn the men that they were now in severe danger that all those who had remained rose and began heading together for their shacks. The police claimed that this movement represented a deadly attack and the order to fire was given.
There is footage readily available showing the moment the police opened fire. Contrary to official reports at the time, the strikers were not attacking the police, but attempting to escape. The footage shows the workers moving from right to left, in a direction that is at right angles to police lines. I have come across one video, which shows in the distance one of the strikers stopping and facing the police - he is crouching and holding something that he appears to be pointing towards them. It is claimed that this could be a gun, and the sound that is heard could be that of a gun firing twice, but the pictures are out of focus and the sound is unclear amid the general hubbub. But what is clear on all the videos taken at the scene is the fact that hundreds of shots were being fired by dozens of police.
So how was the massacre covered by the Morning Star immediately afterwards? Obscenely its report the following day was headlined: “NUM: rival union ‘may have planned’ mine violence”. It read: “National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) secretary general Frans Baleni … blamed the unrest on the rival Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union making promises which could never be delivered and, in the process, organising an illegal action which led to the loss of lives.”3
No, you did not misread this. The NUM actually blamed the breakaway union for the slaughter of its own members - and the Star dutifully went along with that!
Like father, like son
However, things have been complicated a little by the fact that the Star’s foreign editor is now a certain James Tweedie, who is himself South African. He is the son of leading SACP hack, Dominic Tweedie.
Tweedie senior was possibly the most disgusting of the SACP apologists immediately after Marikana. He was quoted by rightwing journalist RW Johnson as saying:
This was no massacre: this was a battle. The police used their weapons in exactly the way they were supposed to. That’s what they have them for. The people they shot didn’t look like workers to me. We should be happy. The police were admirable.4
Later Tweedie claimed he had been “misquoted”, but refused to explain how these words came to be in a web article.
But it was Tweedie junior who penned the Star article last month, which highlighted Cosatu’s complaints about a ‘lack of balance’ in the anniversary commemorations, and it was he who wrote a follow-up piece a week later, in which he described the massacre in this way: “Police reportedly opened fire after at least one protestor fired a handgun at security forces, and other [sic] charged police lines with spears and other weapons.”5
As I have pointed out, only one piece of footage showed images of one striker who could be firing a gun, but there are no video or photographic images that I have seen showing the attack on police lines claimed by Tweedie.
In the same article, Tweedie junior notes without comment that “The NUM, Cosatu and South African Communist Party blamed mining transnationals for encouraging Amcu to usurp the established union and provoking unofficial strikes as a pretext for mass sackings.” Yes, it was all Amcu’s fault that the police gunned down its members.
A Star editorial the same day states:
Despite the combined efforts of [the opposition] Economic Freedom Fighters and ... Democratic Alliance to blame president Jacob Zuma or then ANC secretary-general Cyril Ramaphosa for ordering police to open fire ... on Amcu members armed with clubs, machetes and spears, no credible case has been made.6
Ironically a “credible case” was actually made by James Tweedie himself in his August 12-13 article, when he wrote:
Meanwhile, vice-president Cyril Ramaphosa, a former NUM general secretary and Lonmin board member, denied he would be attending the commemorations after families said he would not be welcome.
Some Marikana activists blame Mr Ramaphosa for the massacre over a series of emails he sent to the mining firm. On the eve of the Marikana shooting Ramaphosa said in an email discussion between Lonmin management and government officials that events around the strike “are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such”. He also called for “concomitant action” to be taken.
The billionaire has thrown his hat in the ring to become leader of the ruling ANC party when it holds elections this December.
Yes, the man who was at the time ANC secretary-general and today is deputy president of South Africa, the “billionaire” who was a senior Lonmin board member, had urged “concomitant action” against the strikers on the very eve of the massacre - he also declared in his emails that it was essential to get the minister of police to “act in a more pointed way”.
But the Star editorial, having quoted Ramaphosa’s “dastardly criminal” characterisation, continues:
Ramaphosa was right. Murdering police, security guards and members of another union is not part of any normal labour dispute. It is criminal behaviour. Rather than high-ranking ANC leaders ordering a bloodbath, it is more likely that police exacted unlawful retribution for the murder of their comrades ...
It is of course true that the police were exacting such “unlawful retribution”, but that does not negate the accusations against Ramaphosa or the fact that the police had been armed with lethal weapons in readiness for the slaughter.
Perhaps Morning Star editor Ben Chacko should ask himself why, five years after the massacre, not a single police officer has been charged with any crime - despite the ample video evidence of their murderous assault. Remember, only 17 of the 34 who died were killed at the scene of the initial shooting - the other 17 were chased, cornered and murdered a mile away. The obvious answer is that any prosecution would inevitably bring to light evidence that has so far been suppressed - what exactly were police orders on the day in question and who issued them?
Still for ‘liberation’?
But none of this is of any relevance for Chacko, who claims in his editorial: “Dozens of local NUM leaders have had their lives snuffed out, usually shot, in the five years since the Marikana massacre, yet the world remains fixated with the blood spilt on one day only.”
First of all, it is totally false to imply that “dozens” of NUM officials have been killed by Amcu members. Certainly the violence between the two unions has been vicious (on both sides) and a handful of “local NUM leaders” have indeed been killed. But what really takes the biscuit is Chacko’s conclusion:
The ANC, SACP, Cosatu and NUM are linked in the revolutionary alliance that led South Africa’s liberation struggle. Britain’s labour movement stood four-square with this alliance and should not be budged from that principled position by a concerted campaign by its opponents to project a one-sided, politically motivated parody of reality.
So, because the ANC once led the liberation struggle against apartheid, our support for the alliance it leads must continue indefinitely! Even though it now runs a neoliberal regime headed by a corrupt president, whom the SACP itself has called upon to resign. And even though one of South Africa’s richest capitalists, Cyril Ramaphosa - who has a substantial interest in several large companies as well as Lonmin - is one of the favourites to replace Zuma as ANC leader when he steps down in December. The new leader will almost inevitably be elected president of the republic when Zuma’s second term ends in 2019.
But the SACP was not united when it called on Zuma to resign immediately on March 31 this year. It was Dominic Tweedie who on April 3 reposted without comment, on one of the pro-SACP email lists he runs, a party statement dated December 17 2015 - just after the dismissal of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene. In this statement the SACP had “strongly opposed the regime-change agenda disguised as ‘Zuma Must Fall’”. It called on “our liberation alliance, all formations of the mass democratic movement and democratic people of South Africa as a whole to close ranks” against “an imperialist-supported offensive ... to discredit and delegitimise the whole of our ANC-led national liberation movement” by “singling out targeted leaders”.
Tweedie was amongst those who opposed the new, ‘anyone but Zuma’ official line of the SACP and therefore also opposed the support offered by both Cosatu and the Young Communist League to Ramaphosa as Zuma’s replacement. Presumably that was why Tweedie junior included the anti-Ramaphosa comments in his Morning Star article of August 12-13 this year. Note that the Tweedies, like the SACP faction they support, are not opposing Ramaphosa because he is an unscrupulous capitalist who demands “concomitant action” against strikers. No, they are against him because he lent support to the Zuma Must Fall campaign.
1. Morning Star August 12-13.
3. Morning Star August 17 2012.
5. Morning Star August 19-20.
6. Morning Star editorial, August 19-20.