Almost three years have passed since 34 men were shot dead on a hillside in South Africa, after asking for a living wage.
All of them had spent their working lives far below the Earth’s surface, blasting rocks in order to extract some of the metals that sit inside whatever computer or mobile phone you’re looking at right now. It’s hot, dangerous and dirty work, which leaves the body cramped and sore. Each of the miners had a name, a family and a story to tell, a past and a future.
Their relatives have waited more than 1,000 days to find out who was responsible for cutting those stories short and why. Last week, the findings of a judicial inquiry into the killings were finally made public. Most of the families missed the start of a speech by the South African president, Jacob Zuma, because the government hadn’t bothered to give them proper notice that a statement was imminent. The rest came through only in fragments, via a single erratic laptop feed in a language that many could not understand.
The inquiry’s report, as one commentator aptly observed, proved to be an exercise in throat-clearing. By the time Zuma’s summation was over, only one thing was clear: the wait for truth and accountability continues.
No one has ever claimed responsibility for the Marikana massacre, even though several of the shootings were captured in real-time by television cameras. The victims were striking mineworkers, employed by Lonmin, a British platinum-mining company; those firing the guns were policemen, employed by the South African state.
A complex web of political power and economic interests binds these interests together and the massacre wrenched many issues to the surface. To explain how so many unarmed people could be gunned down in broad daylight under South Africa’s post-apartheid democracy, the inquiry needed to probe the privilege and marginalisation of the country’s platinum belt – where grinding poverty and fabulous riches exist in symbiosis.
Instead, the Marikana report, while confirming some of the worst excesses and deceptions practised by the police and Lonmin, exonerates almost everybody. Its most strident conclusion is that there is a need for further inquiries, inquiries that – on the evidence of this one – will presumably end up calling for yet more inquiries, a process that will be repeated until everybody has forgotten that a massacre took place at all.
For the rest of this column, click here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/03/marikana-massacre-justice-south-africa-miners