The Marikana massacre of August 16 could have been avoided if Lonmin mine management had engaged with striking workers, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa said on Wednesday.
He painted a grim picture of the mine’s management, saying it had reneged on its earlier commitment to talk to the striking miners.
He is yet to be cross-examined by lawyers for Lonmin and the National Union of Mineworkers, who were due to start with this on Thursday.
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Mr Mathunjwa spent the day recounting in chilling detail how he went from "very optimistic" - that there would be a peaceful end to the strike the following day - to the point at which he "feared for the worst". He said that in a meeting with Lonmin on August 15, the company had committed itself to engaging with the striking workers - provided that they came back to work peacefully.
When Mr Mathunjwa went to speak to the miners - under a heavy police escort - that evening, he conveyed the message and left "hopeful", saying that he understood the striking workers to be amenable to dispersing. He had told them he would return the next morning to speak to them face to face.
He said the following morning Lonmin executive Jomo Kwadi stated he did not "have good news" and that there was already a two-year agreement in place, so management would not engage with the workers over their grievances.
Mr Mathunjwa said he believed they were reneging on what they had agreed the day before and he "felt like I was betrayed". He told the inquiry how twice that day, he went back to the workers but was unable to convey their messages to either the South African Police Service (SAPS) or management.
There was no one from the SAPS available to meet him and management "refused", said Mr Mathunjwa. Still he had pleaded with the workers to disperse, saying to do so was not necessarily defeat, he said.
Mr Mathunjwa told the inquiry that the second time he returned to the hilltop he had told the workers that they were going to be killed by the police. He was convinced of this because of the increase in police activity, with helicopters circling and enough police vehicles to fill a football field. The fact that the police were not available to meet with him and management’s refusal to meet him, made him think that violence was inevitable.
Mr Mathunjwa said some of the striking workers had come forward and told him they would not attack or kill anyone.
The workers then waved him away. As he and his colleagues reluctantly left Marikana, one of them got a phone call saying: "The police are killing the workers."