Close your eyes and imagine a very different speech from the one actually delivered by President Jacob Zuma, but based on the same report into the Marikana killings from the Farlam Commission. It might have started something like this:
“Good evening, fellow South Africans. The Farlam Commission, set up to investigate the deaths at Marikana in August 2012, has made a number of findings and recommendations about those tragic events. I have read the report and it is clear that the handling of the situation by the SAPS was badly botched. Also that SAPS national leadership was to blame for much of what happened. That same SAPS leadership misled the Commission on at least two occasions. I have therefore relieved Commissioner Phiyega of her position. In addition, as a nation, we are failing to enforce our own laws with regard to the carrying of sharp weapons and firearms. The Commission found that the company involved, Lonmin, had failed in its responsibility to implement its plan to improve the lives of its workers. Furthermore, by insisting that non-strikers went to work during that troubled time, it actively endangered them. The unions involved – AMCU and the NUM – were found to be responsible for stoking the fires that led to fatal violence.”
Clear, to the point, and very different from what we in fact heard.
Instead, Zuma opened his nationally televised address with “the findings”, which began with a scathing attack on the mining company in question, Lonmin. The Commission, he told us, had found that Lonmin had not used “its best endeavours to resolve disputes” not had it “responded appropriately” to threats of the outbreak of violence. It has also “insisted that non-striking employees should be at work” although it could not protect them. And the company had not implemented its social and labour plan.
Why did Zuma place Lonmin right at the head of the list?
Then, to the unions involved – AMCU and NUM – with a personal mention and exoneration for AMCU leader Joseph Mathunjwa “who did his best to persuade strikers to lay down arms”.
From there it was “Individual strikers and loose groupings” which had contributed to “a situation of conflict and confrontation”. All very vague.
Then the President turned to his Deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, quoting lawyers for the victims who had accused Ramaphosa of being “the cause of the deaths of the 34 miners”, and stating that the Commission had found that “it cannot be said that Cyril Ramaphosa is the cause of the massacre and the charges against him are groundless.”
Aha! There’s the Lonmin link – Ramaphosa, as everyone knows, was a director of Lonmin at the time of the massacre, so let’s damn him with faint praise.
We’re several minutes into Zuma’s speech and no mention has been made yet of the role played by the SAPS. But we have stitched Lonmin up – not that Lonmin pulled the triggers that killed 34 miners, you understand – and we have reminded everyone about Cyril’s role.
Then, in fairness, to the police. The Commission’s findings against them are damning. Fatally flawed plans – “defective in a number of respects” – “they should have waited until the following day when they could have been implemented” – and decisions taken not by commanders on the ground but by SAPS leadership at something called the National Management Forum, which sounds like a jolly business breakaway organised by management consultants.
But this is the meat of the Report – why is it buried after Lonmin, the Unions and Cyril?
From “findings” to “recommendations”, and once again, it was Lonmin first up in the gunsights. (Sorry – pun not intended, but on second thoughts, I’ll leave it stand.) The company had not fulfilled its social obligations and the Department of Mineral Resources was instructed to take steps to enforce this.
For the SAPS, a “panel of experts” would be appointed to “revise and amend all prescripts with regard to public order policing … A protocol should be developed for communications in large operations …”
Finally, to accountability. That’s modern management-speak and, it would seem Presidency-speak, for who is to blame. The Minister of Police and the National Police Commissioner should “take care” when making public statements. There should be “public accountability and truth-telling”.
And finally, “Referrals”. The National Police Commissioner is to face an investigation into her fitness to hold office, as is the former police chief of the North West Province. Along with anyone else responsible for the “killings and assaults”. Oh, and by the way, it would be a really good thing if we could have “strict enforcement of the laws” with regard to the carrying of sharp weapons and firearms.
So how does all this pan out?
The way the human mind works when processing information is the way we journalists write stories and headlines. The important bits come first and the rest follows. The subtext of President Zuma’s message is simple: “Lonmin’s to blame, Cyril’s not guilty himself of the killings, but he was a director of Lonmin, so you can draw your own conclusions on that. We’ll probably have to fire Ria Phiyega at some point, but long after everyone’s forgotten that I was the one who appointed her. We’ll bury the rest in various panels of experts and hope that Nathi Mthethwa gets some media training. Hopefully, everyone would have switched their TVs off by the time I said it would be terrific if we could enforce the law on sharp weapons and firearms, especially given that I’ve just driven a horse-and-cart through international and domestic law over the arrest of Umar al-Bashir. To say nothing of my own little dispute over corruption.”
A nod of the head towards democracy, a tip of the hat towards “it shouldn’t have happened” and “our hearts go out to the families”, a reminder that these were only “the highlights” from the 600 page report – unfortunate choice of phrase, that – thank you and good night.
From the supposed leader of a deeply troubled nation, this was a staggeringly inappropriate performance: part political vindictiveness – we’ll point fingers at capitalist Lonmin and allow some mud to stick to Cyril – and part political cynicism – we’ll kick most of the difficult stuff into touch with more investigations and enquiries and panels of experts.
But once again it also exposed the President’s – and South Africa’s – great vulnerability.
Zuma himself can’t be too precious about the rule of law and accountability because he himself keeps ignoring the law: the corruption allegations, the Shaik trial, the Guptas at Waterkloof, Nkandla and, of course, most recently, the direct flouting of the ICC and our own High Court over Umar al-Bashir. To say nothing of the string of disastrously bad appointments he keeps making and his appalling management of his own government.
You either believe in the rule of law or you don’t, and you act accordingly. Where Jacob Zuma stands on this becomes clearer and clearer every day he remains in office.