Marikana: ‘Frightened’ NUM members armed themselves
The Marikana Commission of Inquiry has heard evidence that frightened National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) had armed themselves with knobkerries and spears to protect themselves from striking colleagues.
NUM vice-secretary for the Rowland Shaft, Saziso Albert Gegeleza, who took the witness stand this morning, said he had been given a spear and knobkerrie at the union’s office in Wonderkop on August 11.
Gegeleza was testifying about the events that led to the outbreak of violence when more than 3 000 rock-drill operators employed by Lonmin went on an unprotected strike in August last year.
By the time the strike ended six weeks later, 44 people had been killed. The commission is probing circumstances that led to the deaths and the conduct of unions, Lonmin and the police.
During leading of evidence by NUM lawyer Karel Tip, Gegeleza said a senior union official, Daluvuyo Bongo, had told him the weapons which were handed out to the union members had been obtained the previous evening when shop stewards disarmed employees who were preventing their colleagues from going to work.
This was at the time when rock-drill operators employed by Lonmin were engaged in efforts to embark on an unprotected strike which the NUM was opposed to. Gegeleza said a group of the NUM members had then moved into the road because they feared they would be trapped in the building.
“Although most people spoke in favour of remaining and trying to protect the office, it was clear that most of us, if not all, were very afraid of the strikers, given the information we had received,” Gegeleza said in his statement.
He told the commission the union members had removed a vehicle belonging to the organisation from the building to protect it from being damaged by the striking workers who were set to march to the NUM office that day.
The workers had earlier gathered at the Lonmin offices to demand a monthly salary of R12 500.
Gegeleza said he became “extremely frightened” after two security guards had told Bongo they were leaving the area and would not be able to protect them.
Earlier, the commission saw video footage of the in loco inspection that took place on October 1 in which several witnesses, including Bongo, spoke about how the union’s office was attacked by the armed strikers.
Witnesses said two people were killed when shots were fired from the NUM offices that day, but the commission has since established that no one was killed.
The commission was forced to adjourn just before lunch as a result of a power failure during Gegeleza’s testimony. It is expected to resume after the lunch break.