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“It Was a Massacre”: Peter Alexander Launches Marikana: A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer

Peter Alexander

 
“What happened at Marikana was a massacre, not merely a tragedy.” Peter Alexander, one of the authors of Marikana: A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer, the first book to be published on the striking mineworkers who were shot by police at Lonmin mine, is emphatic on this point.

Martin Legassick and Peter Alexander MarikanaWhen you look at the definition of a massacre, Alexander said on Monday night at the launch of the book at The Book Lounge in Cape Town, it is the “one-sidedness of the deaths” that is key. “At Marikana 34 mineworkers were killed and no police. That is a massacre.”

In discussion with renowned historian Martin Legassick, Alexander described how he went with a research team, including his co-authors Thapelo Lekgowa, Botsang Mmope, Luke Sinwell and Bongani Xezwi, to the scene of the massacre on 18 August, two days after the shooting that took place on the 16th. They came across “about 15 000 people who all sat peacefully in an arc – peaceful, but many of them bearing arms, traditional weapons”.

It was decided at this gathering that the strike would continue, with workers still demanding a salary increase. “This was one of the most courageous things I had ever heard,” Alexander said. The mineworkers had a quiet determination despite the fact that many of their colleagues, family members and friends had been killed, detained, injured, or were missing.

Legassick praised Marikana: A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer because it allows the mineworkers’ voices to be heard through the interviews that Alexander and his team conducted with them on the koppie. Alexander explained how he had noticed that there had been almost no reports from the workers’ point of view in the newspapers. Together with his team, he decided to find out what it was like for the workers “to be shot at with live ammunition from automatic weapons, with at the same time having helicopters above firing upon you, with rubber bullets, with tear gas, with water canons, with horses charging all over the place… All of these on their own are horrible, frightening, but to have all of them, all at once, must have been terrifying for people.”

The team also wanted to learn more about the people who were killed. “In total 34 workers died, 12 in front of the TV cameras – what about the other 22?” They were told about the “killing koppie” where violence broke out when police tried to surround the mineworkers there with razor wire. The team discovered that people where shot in the back of the head as they fled and while they were lifting their arms up to surrender.

Alexander thanked Jacana Media for managing to put this book out so quickly. “Not many publishers could have done the same.” Updated versions of the book will no doubt appear as the aftermath unfolds and more information comes to the fore. The Farlam Commission is still investigating the events at Marikana, although Legassick and Alexander both doubt that the commission will be able to get to the bottom of the massacre, revealing who ordered the extreme measures by the police and to what end. Whether or it does, Alexander is satisfied that Marikana: A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer adds significantly to our knowledge of what transpired.

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Carolyn Meads (@CarolynMeads) livetweeted from the launch using #livebooks:

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Book details

  • Marikana: A view from the mountain and a case to answer by Peter Alexander, Thapelo Lekgowa, Botsang Mmope, Luke Sinwell, Bongani Xezwi
    EAN: 9781431407330
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