Ramaphosa ready to face ghosts of Marikana
> Tichaona Zindoga
Johannesburg – A woman and ghosts of the past. These are the two things that are stànding between a man who would be king and his glory in South Africa.
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa is seeking to succeed President Jacob Zuma during the ANC national elective conference in December but he first has to see off a challenge from former party chair and respected diplomat-bureaucrat, Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and confront a dark past concerning the massacre of 44 miners that were killed at a mine he controlled in 2012.
The incident is now infamously known as the Marikana Massacre and it occurred at Lonmin Mines in the North West province, where the business tycoon had control.
And at the material time, as chairman, he appeared to encourage the tragic smothering of the more than 200 striking workers.
The massacre is regarded as arguably the darkest episode in post-apartheid South Africa, comparable to the excesses of the racist regime.
And the man at the centre of it is a struggle stalwart and former labour leader, Ramaphosa himself, which has brought a strange twist to his credentials.
In the last five years since the tragedy, Ramaphosa has not taken full responsibility of what happened despite a Commission of Inquiry, known as the Farlam Commission, and exposure that he had sent emails that appeared to encourage security to take a tough stance on “criminality” witnessed in the striking workers’ activities at the time.
In one of the emails often quoted in the media, he wrote to Lonmin’s chief commercial officer, Albert Jamieson: “The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute.
They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such.
There needs to be concomitant action to address this situation.”
What followed was police opening lethal fire leading to dozens of deaths and casualties.
Ramaphosa is said to have influenced security officials to crush miners in the bloody manner they did.
From then, his standing as a struggle stalwart and potential national leader took a severe knock.
Opposition accused, as they still do, him of having the “blood of Marikana miners” on his hands.
An influential columnist, Ranjeni Munusamy wrote at the time:
“Ramaphosa has forgotten his roots and invited deadly state force to spill the blood of his own people for his and the company’s financial benefit.
Betrayal does not get more poignant than that.”
She suggested that Ramaphosa has been corrupted by capital and this has led to his downfall.
“What happened to Cyril? Did excessive wealth steal the soul of one of South Africa’s greatest political heroes; the one who rose from the very working class that is now being torn apart?
The one who was a silent hope, the man so many people wished were the president? A star has fallen. Forever.”
Over the years, Ramaphosa has appeared to sound regret and at the time of the tragedy offered millions of rand to cover funeral costs.
In the last two weeks though, the Deputy President, has come out showing that he is ready to confront the ghosts of Marikana.
On May 7, addressing students at Rhodes University he said he regretted the language he used in the communications.
“I may have used unfortunate language in the messages I sent out, for which I have apologised and for which I do apologise,” he said.
But that partial apology was greeted with controversy and dissatisfaction.
Three days later in Parliament, Ramaphosa not only added onto the apology; he offered the ultimate: to go and face the widows and victims of Marikana.
He said he had taken counsel from religious and political leaders, including the iconic Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, and was prepared to be accountable.
“I served mineworkers for nine years…It could never be that I would want mineworkers killed or anyone for that matter,” he said.
“I’m prepared to meet the widows of those workers who were killed, the widows of the 44 killed. As a leader, I’m prepared to be accountable.”
He did not indicate when he was going to face the wailing shadows of Marikana.
However, his apology has been widely viewed with scepticism as he is being accused of not being sincere and making the apology five years later than the fact because there is the election ahead.
Labour unions and opposition parties have rejected the apology and have been widely quoted in the media here, pointing out that the politician was insincere.
The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, (NUMSA), the largest worker body at Marikana, shut the door on Ramaphosa’s regret.
It said it rejected “the un-apology”.
Said Numsa: “Ramaphosa was the chairperson of Lonmin mines, at the time of the massacre and Deputy President of the country.
“In the email which he sent to Lonmin’s chief commercial officer, Albert Jamieson, the day before the fateful killing of workers on August 16, 2012, Ramaphosa described the strike action taken by the miners as ‘dastardly criminal acts’ which required ‘concomitant action’ to address the situation. Ramaphosa’s apology nearly five years later are just empty words. There is no substance to his expression of regret…”
There has been a glut of such rejections but experts say in confronting Marikana, Ramaphosa could be making a positive move in his presidential bid.
Trust Matsilele, a doctoral fellow at the University of Johannesburg, said Ramaphosa will try to clean up his name and cast the blame onto President Jacob Zuma, in what could be an interesting (if impossible) political jujitsu.
“…he will definitely distance himself and attach blame on Zuma who was President and failed to keep order,” explained Matsilele.
“If Zuma tries to blame someone who was out of government then it will confirm he is captured by big business.”
Matsilele reckons that the presence of Madikizela-Mandela may assuage the situation for Ramaphosa and in general appears positive for his bid.
“(T)he fact that Winnie Madikizela-Mandela has offered to take Cyril to Marikana speaks volumes. Winnie could be the most powerful politician in South Africa and she carries influence that’s not equal but next to her late former husband, by offering to take Cyril to Marikana she is making a pronouncement that she is behind him and she wants him to rise above these accusations.”
Another expert who spoke to The Southern Times averred that Marikana may not damage Ramaphosa entirely.
According to Gideon Chitanga, researcher at the Centre for the Study of Democracy (University of Johannesburg and Rhodes University), Ramaphosa’s challenge will be engaging the “Zuma faction” on the ground.
“I do not see Marikana weakening him beyond the North West regions, his main challenge is to muster a ground game that can out compete the Zuma factions (and) particularly to appeal to the lower strictures of the ANC which are the major constituencies of the Zuma faction.”
This will be more gruelling than ghosts of Marikana.
Dlamini-Zuma enjoys the support of the President, the ANC Youth League, Women’s League and about four of the major “premier league” provinces.
On the other hand, according to Chitanga, Ramaphosa enjoys the backing of big white capital, business interests, much of the middle class and the elites.
“Unfortunately the majority of these people are outside the ANC structures proper,” notes Chitanga
And until December when the elective indaba takes place, it is game on!
Explains the expert: “The current picture is too vague to precisely tell who will win the ANC leadership contest.
For now it looks like the major camps vying for power are sort of balanced in terms of their potential support from the provinces.
“The situation remains extremely fluid and delicate, possibly a lot of money and horse trading will determine how the spoilers will swing their local strictures to back their preferred candidates.”