Marikana – Opinion

Farlam should be just the beginning, or Marikana will happen again

Judge Farlam
Farlam.jpg

From just about every conceivable perspective too much has been expected of the Farlam Commission of Enquiry into the Marikana tragedy of August 2012.

The levels of expectations for a bare-it-all and a fix-it-all outcome are responsible for the kind of reaction to the commission’s report that is summarised by a headline reading, “Not a bang, but a whimper.”

Clearly the biggest disappointment in the report comes from those who were calling for the blood of scapegoats on whom most of the blame could be laid before they are proverbially slaughtered, so that the rest of us can forget about it all and get on with our lives.

Scapegoating, however, would be too easy an out and a dangerous shortcut, avoiding the hard lessons to be learnt if recurrences of Marikana are to be avoided.

The fairly narrow brief of the commission to first and foremost establish the facts of what had happened on those fateful few days in the late winter of 2012 should be kept in mind when judging the report. That the commission has done, and done well. It also, within the context of its brief, identified those who should shoulder the responsibility for what had happened, and made recommendations. It would be a fairly safe bet to say that South Africa will soon have a new national commissioner of police and that the Lonmin mine will come under scrutiny for not complying with some of the obligations under its mining licence.

The commission also declared that it was “not satisfied that its terms of reference are wide enough to cover the question as to whether a compensation scheme” for the victims of the incident and their families should be implemented. It did, however, foresee the possibilities of claims and that it is “clearly desirable” that it should be resolved “without further lengthy and expensive legal proceedings”.

Wider causes and implications

Although it was not within the scope of the commission’s terms of reference, ample indications came to the fore of wider causes in the South African socio-political household – some of them structural – that had created the environment in which the tragedy took place.

It is important that note should be taken of these, and that corrective steps are taken to avoid such destruction, also on a wider front in the national household.

In the case of the Marikana tragedy, the South African Police Service (SAPS) was at the coalface. About the SAPS’s state of readiness to face up to its task, the commission notes: “The South African Police Service has been under strain as a result of serial management crises over the past few years. Coupled with organisational rank changes … these crises have had a detrimental effect on police culture and subcultures …”

At the same time one should question the structures and processes that deliver a succession of national commissioners shrouded in controversy, with the latest one and a provincial commissioner now doubted as being fit for the positions they hold.

What should be of great concern is that the SAPS is by far not the only critical state institution subjected to “serial management” crises in recent years. One only has to look at the procession of heads of the National Prosecuting Authority to realise that this has become an institutional illness in South Africa.

In the context of this commission’s terms of reference it could not lay any responsibility for what happened at the door of the executive. However, if one delves further back and deeper, it becomes a different story.

The cause of this situation is probably to be found in practices like the ruling party’s cadre deployment throughout the civil service and the toxic mix – to borrow a term from the report – of politics and what should be a professional civil administration.

Marikana gave a clear signal that the civil service should be professionalised. Political functionaries should realise that top civil servants, able to give them fearless, honest advice with unbiased integrity, are in their own best interest.

More such issues

But there are a number of other issues hidden in the more than 600 pages of the report that also need closer scrutiny, analysis and further serious attention. These include:

  • The clear need for the mining industry to put their collective hand deep in their own bosom about the fact that Rhodes’s legacy of migrant labour and its accompanying system of hostels is still with us – something that also played a role in recent xenophobic incidents; and
  • The situation that mineworkers, who are among the top third of income earners in the country, cannot break through the barriers between an informal fringe existence in squatter towns and suburban life;

President Zuma should probably hand the report to a multi-disciplined panel of experts to study in depth and to formulate recommendations and identify areas in need of further study.

The Farlam report should spur leaders from all political parties, the business community and civil society into action to create a new, unifying and, above all, credible vision for South Africa’s future. Without that, the expectation deficit that has been building for some years now among so many people, might just have us see the next round of service delivery protests escalate into a full-scale “Arab spring”.

by Piet Coetzer

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