This year marks the 9th year since the Marikana massacre. On 9 August 2012, the mineworkers embarked on a strike over their working conditions and to demand a living wage. On 16 August 2012, the South African Police Service (SAPS) attempted to end the strike by responding with lethal force. Over the course of a few days, the cumulative death toll reached 44 people including mineworkers, Lonmin security personnel and two SAPS officers.
The events of 16 August, now known as the Marikana massacre, remain a defining moment for the public, South African policing and especially for the families of the deceased and the mineworkers who witnessed and survived the harrowing experience. On the 16th, the police killed 34 mineworkers in total. Seventeen were shot and killed at ‘Scene 1’ when the miners attempted to disperse, leaving the area that they had occupied during the strike. In the moments after, police pursued the fleeing mineworkers, killing another 17 at ‘Scene 2’. At least 78 mineworkers were severely injured from gunshot wounds and over 250 mineworkers were arrested and charged with crimes including murder, attempted murder, public violence, illegal gathering, armed robbery, possession of dangerous weapons and malicious damage to property.
Since 2012, the families and surviving mineworkers have continued to bear the trauma and loss which has since been compounded by the lack of justice and accountability for the events at Marikana. To date, only nine police officers have been charged. Four police officers charged for crimes relating to hiding the circumstances around the death of Mr. Motiso Otsile van Wyk Sagalala have all been acquitted. Currently, six police officers are standing trial for the death of Mr. Pumzile Sokanyile, including then-North West Deputy Police Commissioner Major-General William Mpembe, who is also charged with the murders of mineworkers Mr. Semi Jokanisi, Mr. Thembelakhe Mati and police officers Warrant Officer Tsietsi Hendrik Monene, and Warrant Officer Sello Ronnie Lepaauku. Mpembe is also charged with the attempted murders of six surviving mineworkers and one police officer. To date, however, no one has been charged and prosecuted for the deaths of the mineworkers killed on 16 August 2012.
Marikana exposed the dire state of public order policing in South Africa. The continued lack of accountability for Marikana and the failure to learn from the lessons have resulted in more deaths and injuries since 2012. During the recent unrest and looting that took place in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July 2021, police appeared ill‑prepared and lacking in capacity. This has understandably been contrasted with police heavy-handed enforcement of the lockdown in 2020, and their disproportionate use of force against past protests and other crowd incidents.
In March this year, the Minister of Police Bheki Cele made public the Panel of Experts Report on Policing and Crowd Management which was submitted in 2018 against the backdrop of the massacre. As part of SERI’s work for justice for the victims of the Marikana massacre, SERI also urges the Minister of Police and the National Commissioner of Police to consider the report, sincerely and urgently, and to implement its recommendations. Were they to do so, South Africa could see a transformed, more effective policing system that protects the safety and rights of members of the public and ensures a more professionalised, demilitarised and accountable police service.