Demands and tragedy at Marikana

In 2013 an incident occurred at Marikana, a mine in the North West province of South Africa. There was much discussion of the matter (and still is for that matter) and left and right wing takes on it passed blame around like the proverbial hot potato. I was in the habit of writing to the press at the time and drafted my comments but various things, including the death of my wife at the time, intervened and the draft has languished on my computer.  My comments on tactics are based on my own training, reading and common sense.

I believe the Marikana matter has still not been properly resolved and probably never will be.

In my opinion the overweening power of the unions and the misinformation that they allow their members to be fed is largely to blame as is the poor handling of the operation by mostly untrained and inexperienced police. Of course the management of the mining house did not come out entirely squeaky-clean either. Altogether a debacle but here, for what it is worth, is my take on the matter as written in 2013…for those interested I suggest a web search for Marikana/Marikana killings and similar. (I have added one or two explanatory asides for the wider audience)


Firstly, long before we get to strikes and protests there is the matter of free choice in the job you choose to take.

Having looked for work and chosen to be a miner you knew what the remuneration was to be and you can’t, and should not be allowed to, suddenly demand that you want double pay.

When you took the job you knew the nature of your responsibilities in respect of family and home. It seems though, that if you are in a unionised environment where the union has overwhelming representation it is accepted that once you are in you can behave as you please. You can do just enough to avoid any serious sanction against yourself. You know that you are fire-proof in terms of current legislation that is so skewed towards labour that it loses sight of the requirements of good business practice.

It is in this environment that DEMANDS are born. Not reasoned requests or applications at appropriate times but savage demands backed up with brutalising behaviour.

Notwithstanding the above it appears that the employer in this case was clumsy in their handling of certain issues around pay. Furthermore, they, the mining house, should still shoulder the blame for not being sensitive to what is going on within its organisation and they should have been in a position to respond or even pre-empt the escalation of the matter. That they remained obdurate when the situation started to deteriorate and the first deaths occurred is shameful.

Before proceeding to my next point – journalists please note:

There were NO machine guns on site. There were semi-automatic rifles (probably in 5.56mm) and semi-automatic 9mm pistols – NO machine guns so learn the difference in the interests of accurate reporting.

As to the reaction of the police it appears that poor training and even poorer leadership – on the ground and all the way to the top – is to blame and not the men on the spot. Bear in mind that they had seen not only the bodies of two of their own men who had been killed and brutalised with pangas but also the bodies of similarly mutilated miners. These now fearful individuals may quite reasonably have felt: “If they could do that to their own people then what could any police member expect”.

Oh and why would the rioters attack fellow-miners? Perhaps those miners had tried to be reasonable – comment has been made that a moderate voice on that hillock would have got short shrift – or were they denounced by a sangoma (witch-doctor in common parlance)? Maybe an opportunity to take care of a grudge presented itself?

It appears that among the police were a fairly large number of poorly trained, nervous people concerned that what had happened to their colleagues might happen to them – bluntly these were armed, jittery men who were, in military slang, SHIT SCARED, without experience or appropriate training for the situation.

When, on film, I saw the miners burst out of the bush a moment before the police opened fire I got a fright – and I was only watching a film!

Notice that the FIRST reaction of a number of the police was to run AWAY from the oncoming charge. Only on hearing the firing of those who stood fast did they turn and add their fire to the fusillade. Well trained men do not run and certainly do not fire from BEHIND the firing line endangering their comrades. Press photos also appear to show some members ducking away behind their colleagues – or could that have been when the first shots came from the rioters – something one gets the distinct impression is being denied or suppressed?

A good riot control squad would firstly have had disciplined, trained and respected section leaders in control. NO-ONE would have opened fire without a clear instruction and that instruction does not seem to have been given on the evidence presented.

The first volley might have been birdshot, or similar, designed to hurt and break up the charge. And the sharp pain of such incapacitating ammunition would have dispelled any thoughts of muti protection actually working! (muti protection being some kind of charm – even an oil or ointment – given by the sangoma [witch-doctor] that the users are told – and which they believe – will make them immune to the bullets/weapons of the police – this practice and belief has been seen a lot among terrorists in Africa).

Only if the charge could not be broken should high velocity ammunition have been used and then it should have been controlled and aimed and not been a random volley of shots. Stop the leaders, break the charge. Of course the main instigators hang back and send a few fierce, ill-considered firebrands to lead the charge so it would be no surprise to learn that not one of the dead will be identified as a leader or instigator.

All the repeated cease fire calls also point to belated attempts to stop a panic reaction.

But I am on the side of the police here – the poor buggers who should have been properly trained and led. Well trained police and soldiers are not fearless but they are disciplined and work as a team. Through continuous training and discipline they learn to trust each other and their leaders and they understand the dynamics of situations because they were trained for them.

Furthermore, it is no good having a nucleus of a few well-trained individuals and padding it out with poorly trained and inexperienced members – there is going to be no trust and no cohesion.

Just giving the police military ranks was not going to magically endow them with the appropriate training or ability either.

Had the specialised paramilitary reaction units, trained for such situations, been maintained it may well have been a different matter. Even this is debatable with the decreasing standards that are evident everywhere.