Ruth First Memorial silences miners of Marikana

by Prelene Singh and Ray Mahlaka. 

OUTRAGED activists and mine workers walked out of the Ruth First Memorial lecture this evening, in protest at the lack of engagement following Trevor Manuel’s Ruth First lecture.

Members of the public and of the university community gathered in the Great Hall to hear the annual memorial lecture of slain activist, journalist and scholar, Ruth First. Professor Anton Harber of Wits Journalism, vice chancellor Professor Adam Habib and Minister of the National Planning Commission, Trevor Manuel all addressed the audience.

“We should not be afraid to be unorthodox”

In the lecture itself Manuel spoke about the challenges of mine workers, the migrant labour system and the national development plan but was careful to point out that anything he said should not be seen as preemptive of the  decisions of the official commission of inquiry which is ongoing. He also addressed the problem of equality in the mining and migrant labour sectors in South Africa.

The commission of inquiry was launched to find answers to the killing of 34 miners by police last year but has been plagued by financial issues. Manuel said South Africans should give the commission full confidence that it needs for it to find answers. “We are all sorry that people died but clearly Trevor Manuel is not.”

Manuel said after Marikana last year on August 16: “We have learnt much about the human condition and solidarity and we should not be afraid to be unorthodox.”

Shortly after Manuel completed his speech, Claire Ceruti, activist with the Democratic Left Front said his speech was “rubbish.” From her seat at the back of the hall she shouted “Give us the right to talk about inequality, we are all sorry that people died but clearly Trevor Manuel is not.”

“This is an abuse of the memory of Marikana”

Ceruti said Manuel repeated everything they already knew. She said everyone sat and listened to him [Manuel] speak, now “we want to ask questions”. Ceruti said: “This is an abuse of the memory of Marikana and she said “its ridiculous” regarding the current inequalities in the mining industry and the profit made by the mining companies, which is being sent overseas and not being spent locally.

“People are just getting poor, he can’t argue that there is an improvement in living conditions at the mines … Trevor Manuel is not sorry about people who are dying. We just want to see justice after his role in Marikana,” said Ceruti.

Ceruti and the group of miners she had arrived with were escorted out of the hall by Campus Control with the vice-chancellor in close proximity.

In response to the disruption, Manuel commented after the lecture: “I don’t know what their concerns are. They started shouting and screaming. I don’t know the issues they raised. That was not appropriate raising the issues at the memorial lecture.”

Prof Habib said that the “right to protest is protected and we respected and allowed it to happen”.

Habib said that if questions were taken the conversation might have never ended but “I am glad it happened and I’m glad we managed to move on”. “I think its wonderful and is a representation of the complexity of her [Ruth First] life, and that’s what we hoped for.

Anita Khana of the Marikana Support Campaign said she was not satisfied by what Manuel said. Khana also said that mining companies are more worried about profits.

I feel like vomiting

Khana said that “Manuel showed a deep understanding of inequality but there is a real gap between what he thinks inequality is and what is actually happening.”

Ceruti said: “I feel like vomiting”. She expressed concern around the fact that Manuel came and gave a wonderful speech and made everyone listen to some music and goes home feeling wonderful about himself.

Marikana Support Campaign

Trevor Ngwane, spokesperson for the Marikana Support Campaign said: “The miners were silenced today” when he expressed his concern over the fact that there was no conversation about this in the lecture. Ngwane said: “The miners came here today hoping to get five minutes to have their say”.

He said the miners wanted to to say that they were still suffering and their wages was “starvation wages”.

The most important thing Ngwane said the miners wanted, was to appeal to Manuel for funds to pay for their legal representation at the Marikana Commission. Workers have withdrawn from the commission because they do not have funds to participate. This is unfair because they are the victims, said Ngwane. Dali Mpofu, the advocate representing the miners said: “It would have been important for him to reconcile the recent decision of the Cabinet to turn their backs on the miners.”

“They weren’t capable do that without opening up the debate between what obviously are clashing classes. There were workers here and those who belong to the elite should be confronting the issues of inequality” Mpofu said when addressing the question of whether the event was what he expected.

 “I think Ruth First would have loved it.”

A miner who was shot last year by police in the labour disputes commented in an interview with Wits Vuvuzela: “Its painful what they are doing to us. He was suppose to speak the truth, the real challenges of mine workers. No body is listening to us and it worries me. We are not stupid, we want progress as to why we have been killed.

“At the moment we do not have rights.”

Scatterlings of Africa

Johnny Clegg who was summoned to the stage minutes after the members of Marikana Support Campaign and the miners were escorted out of the hall by security said: “It was a magical moment” and “I think Ruth First would have loved it”. He said that it was a confirmation of South African democracy and a conversation which needs to happen

The night ended off with Clegg performing some of his greatest hits including the international hit “Scatterlings of Africa”.

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