In 2012 the so-called Marikana massacre occurred on 16 August, following labour unrest that started on 11 August 2012. 

(Information: Nozintombi Miya, SABC Television Journalist)

The events that played out in Marikana, North West, in 2012 has been described as the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces against civilians since the 1960 Sharpville Massacare. What started out as a labour dispute, quickly ended in the death of 34 miners at the hands of the police in a bloody shooting on the 16th of August. In the preceding week, ten other people had been killed, including two police officers. Now, in 2015, a 600 page report by the Farlam Commission of Inquiry on the events around Marikana was released by President Jacob Zuma, but not all the questions about what happened on the Koppie have been answered.


It all began with a protest to get an increase on their wages. Lonmin miners were demanding an entry-level salary of R12 500 at a time that rock drill operators were taking home less than R5 000 a month. 

Lonmin management refused and, as the miners had not gone through the correct bargaining structures, they could not legally strike. After several weeks of stoppages, the miners embarked on a wild-cat strike on Friday 10 August 2012, with the situation tense. Several miners who dared report for duty were brutally attacked, setting the tone for the violence that was to follow. 

The mine called in the Police for support, and in a series of violent incidents, two police officers were killed by miners, with two Lonmin security guards also hacked to death.


The Wonderkop koppie (a small hill) became the miners' daily gathering place. Only men were allowed there, and it would be the headquaters at which most of their meeting were held.

The miners believed themselves invinsible. At the time the men had contacted a Sangoma from the Eastern Cape, who had given them a muti called "intelezi' to give them courage. The Sangoma wanted to make more muti that would make the men invisible to police bullets. To do this he needed - two sheep and human body parts. The animals were slaughtered and parts of their flesh and fat mixed with the human remains and burnt into ash. The ash was mixed with some muti and animal blood to make this concoction.

Controversial police witness Mr X testified later at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry that the Sangoma had used a razor blade on some of the men, making small incisions on their foreheads before smearing a black, gel-like potion on them. These procedures, it was believed, were part of a process to prepare them for battle against the enemy. He told them to provoke the police into attacking them - before they hit back. 

Authorities and politicians scrambled to figure out what had caused the Marikana platinum belt to spiral out of control. Socio-economic issues were identified - poverty, lack of housing, and insufficent employment.

A leadership vacum was also identified, as seen in the dissent between the miners and the National Uinon of Mine (NUM) workers leadership in the area. NUM waas the majority union in most of the country's mining sector at the time, but in Marikana, the Association of Mine workers and Construction Union (AMCU) was slowly but surely taking over control. 

Till today the miners have denied that their strike was led by any of the two unions, and have claimed that they wanted to get the wage increase from Lonmin themselves as workers. It was this determination by the miners to fight for what they believed in that took Lonmin by surprise, and it was at that point where the situation had become a powder keg - ready to explode.


Several factors came into play.

Various political and industrial heads intervened to try and calm the situation. A police operation was put into place - to disarm and defuse the angry miners - that operation was called D-day. It culminated in a horrific event that left the country reeling.

The 16th of August 2012 was one of the worst moments for a democratic South Africa. Not since the 1960 Sharpville Massacre had the country seen such a horrific loss of life at the hands of police.

34 men were gunned down at the Koppie in an incident that was condemned all over the world. 

Many of the fallen miners came form neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe, Lesotho and Swaziland. A large number of them came from the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu Natal. The bodies of the 34 men, found in two scenes, were flown back to their homelands for burial.

The loss of the family bread winners was devestating to many of the families and left many children orphaned - and wives widowed, with little to no means of putting food on the table and clothes on their backs.


25 The brutallity of the Marikana deaths led to the setting up of the Marikana Comssion of Inquiry by President Jacob Zuma. It's mandate: to probe what contributed to the strike of 3000 miners. 

The commission sat for the first time in October 2012 at the Rustenburg civic centre and emotion ran high tghrough-out. Police denied that they had used undue brutality, but most families  refused to accept the police's explanation of their actions. 

It took six months before proceeding got fully underway.

The widows of the miners claimed they were not provided with enough resources to attend the proceedings. The legal representatves of the injured miners, and the widows demanded that the state pay their legal fees as their clients could not afford legal representation. Legal Aid South Africa submitted to their demands, but warned that paying these legal fees would put a strain on their financial resources.

In May 2013 the commission was moved to Centurion in Tswane as the financial costs of the hearings were piling up.

Innitially the commission was supposed to run for four months, but the overwhelming amount of evidence and the growing witness list led to the commission being granted atleast four extentions from the Precidency.

Chair Judge Ian Farlam and his commissioners heard from the police, Lonmin, the injured miners, AMCU, and the NUM. Several high profile individuals also took to the witness stand, each denying any overt role in the shootings.

279 miner's were charged with the murder of their fallen colleagues. 

In 2014 the National Prosecuting Authority dropped the charges against the miners, but it seemed like a case of too little to late - the damage to the reputation of the NPA was already done. In the months that the commission was running, several key witnesses were murdered under mysterious circumstances. The sangoma who apparently performed the rituals on the Marikana mineworkers was shot and killed in Bizana, Eastern Cape, in March 2013.

Then police minister Nathi Mthetwa - testified that he had heard about the shootings thorugh the media. 

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa denied that the controvertial email he had sent to Lonmin executives on con-comitant action to be taken in Marikana was meant to exert political pressure on politicians. Ramaphosa was a major shareholder Lonmin director and major shareholder until recently.

The former minister of minerals, Susan Shabangu, was adamant that her actions were not dictated by undue influence and that her charaterization of the strike in Marikana as a criminal element was justified.

National police commissioner Riyah Phiyega- maintained her officers actions were just, as they were facing a life or death situation.


On 25 June 2015, President Jacob Zuma released the findings of the Farlam Commission. 

National police commissioner Riah Phiyega seemed to be the biggest loser in the 600-page report on the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, the miners' lawyer, Advocate Dali Mpofu, said. The report said Phiyega should face an inquiry into her fitness to hold office. He said the biggest question on everyone's mind was how high up accountability was going to go. But Mpofu said this was only the first round and the matter would not rest here.

At am AMCU meeting, it was announced that most mineworkers in Marikana say an international court must probe the events of August 2012. They say their lawyers should challenge the findings of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. Others said Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa must be held accountable for the emails he sent during the labour unrest which led to the tragedy.

At the beginning of August, the Presidency confirmed they had received a letter from Riah Phiyega on why she should still be considered fit for office. 

Gillian Schutte of the The South African Civil Society Information Service writes that while the widows of the workers killed by the South African Police Service in 2012 have since received their deceased husband's provident fund dues, they still wait for justice. They have not been forgotten by Lonmin though, who has taken on the responsibility of their children’s education and also offered a male member of the families of the deceased a job on the mines to replace the breadwinners slain by the police. But they still say though that they have not been adequately compensated for their loss.