South Africa miners’ strike: Labour hero Cyril Ramaphosa urged crackdown, emails show – by Pascal Fletcher and Jon Herskovitz (Reuters/Toronto Star – October 25, 2012)

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JOHANNESBURG—South African millionaire businessman and one-time anti-apartheid hero Cyril Ramaphosa urged ministers to crack down on a violent platinum miners’ strike the day before 34 miners were killed by police, according to emails revealed this week.

The emails cited on Tuesday by a lawyer for miners arrested over the Aug. 16 “Marikana Massacre” are the latest evidence of a reversal of historical roles for the 59-year-old, who himself led a historic miners’ pay strike under apartheid in 1987.

As a respected and influential member of the National Executive Committee of the ruling African National Congress (ANC), Ramaphosa has long been touted as a possible presidential contender.

Hailed with Nelson Mandela as a champion of anti-apartheid struggle, the man who was once called “South Africa’s Lech Walesa” now finds himself pilloried as a cold-hearted capitalist in his role of shareholder and board member of Lonmin, the company at the heart of the Marikana dispute.

The Marikana killings, the deadliest labour violence since apartheid’s end in 1994, shocked South Africans and the world, drew damaging criticism of President Jacob Zuma and sparked a wave of labour protests still rattling Africa’s largest economy.

An official inquiry into Marikana heard on Tuesday about emails sent by Ramaphosa a day before the shootings calling for “concomitant action” to tackle the strike.

“The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterized as such,” reads one email sent by Ramaphosa to Lonmin chief commercial officer Albert Jamieson.

An email from Jamieson to Ramaphosa said the situation at Marikana needed to be “stabilized by the police/army”.

In the exchanges, Ramaphosa said he had also expressed his views to Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu and persuaded her that the Marikana strike was “not a labour dispute but a criminal act” and should be treated as such. Copies of the emails, which form part of the official record of the Marikana commission of inquiry, were obtained by Reuters.

Two police officers, two Lonmin security guards and six workers were killed in the days of labour strife leading up to Aug. 16, and police have said they suspected some of the striking miners of murdering them.

Lonmin told Reuters the emails were authentic. Referring to Tuesday’s testimony about them, it said it had been responding to “violence and loss of life” at Marikana in the days prior to Aug. 16.

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