Johannesburg – President Cyril Ramaphosa is heading to the dock for a grilling on his role in the Marikana massacre back in 2012 when the police shot and killed Lonmin mineworkers during a strike for a wage increase.
The pleadings in the civil claim for damages brought seven years ago by the group of 349 surviving mineworkers against Ramaphosa, Lonmin (now trading as Sibanye Stillwater) and the South African government, have now closed.
The remaining step would be for the parties to share the documents on which they rely. The matter would then be set down for a trial, where Ramaphosa must come and testify why he should not be held personally liable for the massacre. The mineworkers want an unconditional apology for his actions and utterances, including a damages payment of nearly R1 billion.
In June, the Johannesburg High Court made a scathing ruling that opened the door for Ramaphosa to be held liable for collusive conduct during the Marikana massacre. The move brings the current head of state – who was back then a Lonmin director – one step closer to his day in court.
Judge Frits van Oosten found that a case could be made that Ramaphosa “participated in, masterminded and championed the toxic collusion” between mining company Lonmin and the SA Police Service that led to the Marikana massacre.
“As counsel for the plaintiffs was at pains to emphasise, whether the plaintiffs will be able to prove those allegations at the trial is not relevant for the present purposes. I am in agreement with counsel for the plaintiffs that the allegations, as they stand, do satisfy the test for factual causation,” ruled the judge.
The ruling did not hold the defendants directly responsible for the deaths.
The group of injured workers, later arrested for the murder of their colleagues, subsequently amended their papers in line with the ruling to build a case against Ramaphosa in his capacity and Sibanye-Stillwater (which acquired Lonmin a few years after the massacre).
The claim for damages was lodged in 2015 and over the past seven years, Ramaphosa had raised technicalities in a bid to have the allegations against him quashed. Ramaphosa cited eight reasons (exceptions) for dismissing the application. At least four of Ramaphosa’s exceptions were upheld, but one was rejected, because the judge found that he was involved in, planned, and endorsed the Lonmin and police co-operation that led to deaths, injuries, arrests, and detentions for the striking miners.
Ramaphosa became the country’s deputy president in 2014 and 2018, he took over as president after the governing ANC recalled former president Jacob Zuma – who had been out of the country in 2012 when the massacre took place. The Sunday Independent learnt that it took a notice of the bar to force Ramaphosa to file his defendant’s plea.
This was almost three months after the mineworkers submitted their amended notice of motion to the high court in Johannesburg in August. Upon receiving a notice of bar, he had five days in which to file a plea or exception. Failing this, he would have been prevented from doing so, unless the special leave was granted by the court.
In the latest court papers, Ramaphosa admits communication between himself, the then minister of minerals resources Susan Shabangu and the then police minister Nathi Mthethwa, in the days leading to the brutal murder of the 35 mineworkers under a volley of bullets that the police fired in the glare of television cameras.
He also mentions a phone call between him and the then ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, now the minister of minerals resources and energy. He also raises an alternative defence that if all the defendants are joint wrongdoers, as the mineworkers alleged, then the damages sought against him personally should diminish given that “the other defendants might have paid or will pay the plaintiffs”.
The remainder of the eight-page document consists of bare denials, which Ramaphosa cites as reason enough for the court to dismiss the claims against him. Unlike in his previous testimony before the Farlam commission of inquiry into the massacre, cross-examination in court would allow the plaintiffs more time to probe Ramaphosa’s knowledge of the shocking killings that made global headlines.
The commission had found that he could not be held responsible, criminally or otherwise. However, if the mineworkers were successful in proving Ramaphosa’s civil liability, then another door opens for them to review the findings of the commission and to even pursue criminal liability. But findings in a civil matter cannot be used as authority in a criminal matter, so a fresh trial would be required for that purpose.
As part of the amended papers, the mineworkers added that the North West provincial police commissioner had confirmed that Ramaphosa “exerted pressure” on the minister of police. The statement was allegedly captured in a recorded conversation between the police commissioner and Lonmin’s vice president for human resources.
It was argued that as the chairman of the Lonmin Transformation Committee and a trade union and strike leader in the mining sector, Ramaphosa was “reasonably expected by the (mineworkers) to discharge some of the duties which are normally associated with his experience, skills and status as such, particularly in the post-apartheid South African economic transformation context”.
The mineworkers intended to present expert testimony in that regard.
In reply, Ramaphosa said, “the mandate of the transformation committee was to participate in the board’s performance of its functions in relation to transformation”. He “denies the remaining allegations”.