Union rivalry in the spotlight at Marikana commission
The rivalry between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mining and Construction Workers Union (Amcu) came into the spotlight once again at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry today.
The commission has previously heard arguments that the “toxic” relationship between the two unions was responsible for the deaths of 34 people who were shot by police at Marikana on August 16.
This morning, NUM lawyer Karel Tip lodged a complaint with commission chairperson, retired Judge Ian Farlam, saying that people wearing green T-shirts yesterday sung a song calling for the “killing” of the union outside the Rustenburg civic centre where the commission is sitting.
The people in green T-shirts are Amcu members who have been attending the hearings. Yesterday, at the conclusion of the union’s president Joseph Mathunjwa’s cross-examination, they were heard shouting slogans outside the auditorium.
Tip said the matter had been raised by people who heard the “people in green T-shirts” singing the “kill the NUM song” which was the subject of robust debate at the commission last week.
He said although there was no incident resulting from the singing of the song, he pointed out that there had been “a near confrontation” and urged the commission to address the matter. Farlam said it would be dealt with.
Lawyers representing Lonmin and the NUM have argued that the song, which is sung in isiXhosa and isiZulu, is inflammatory and frightening to those to whom it is directed.
Mathunjwa has argued that the song does not mean to kill in literal terms, but instead refers to weakening. He has also denied that the rivalry between the two unions was behind the violence that led to the deaths of 44 people during the violent Lonmin strike in August.
The commission has been the scene of a silent rivalry battle between members of the two unions who attend the proceedings dressed in the colours of their unions.
Recently, a large group of members of the NUM wearing their union’s red T-shirt, were reprimanded by Farlam to refrain from making comments during Mathunjwa’s cross-examination.
The commission is hearing evidence from police Brigadier Zephaniah Mkhwanazi, who has been involved in various crowd control and riot policing units since 1986.
Mkhwanazi told the commission that the Public Order Policing Unit, which was one of the units deployed at Marikana on August 16, is not trained to deal with a crowd of people carrying dangerous weapons.
He was responding to a question on whether the unit had the capability to deal with the situation at Marikana where more than 3 000 people, some armed with pangas, spears, clubs, firearms and presumably a police-issue R5 rifle.
He said it would be difficult for members of the unit to use lethal ammunition because they normally carry shotguns that fire rubber bullets. Mkhwanazi said although they also carry 9mm pistols, it would be difficult to use both guns at the same time as this could lead to them “shooting wrong people in the crowd”.
The other units deployed at Marikana on August 16 were the National Intervention Unit, Tactical Response Team, National Task Force, crime intelligence, forensics, mounted unit, the dog unit and the Public Order Policing Unit.
However, questions have been raised on why Mkhwanazi was called as a witness after he had admitted to the commission that he had not been involved in the planning or execution of plans for the Marikana operation.
Mkhwanazi agreed with Farlam that whatever emerges from the commission should be used in the future training of police officers.
The hearing continues.
- Lucas Ledwaba in Rustenburg