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S.Africa’s Ramaphosa wants Marikana massacre ‘atonement’ role

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Tuesday he wanted “healing and atonement” following the 2012 massacre of 34 striking workers at a mine run by Lonmin where he was a director.

Ramaphosa has been dogged by allegations that he was partly responsible for the slayings, the worst police violence since apartheid ended, despite being exonerated by a judicial inquiry in 2015.

“I would like to use this opportunity to address what role I played in my capacity as a Lonmin director in the events of that tragic week,” said Ramaphosa in an address to parliament in Cape Town.

“I am determined to play whatever role I can in the process of healing and atonement for what happened at Marikana,” a platinum mine northwest of Johannesburg.

Opposition parties and lawyers for the victims and their families have insisted that he played a part in the bloodshed after pressing the authorities to crack down on the strikers.

Shortly before the massacre, Ramaphosa accused the striking mine workers of “dastardly criminal” behaviour.

On Tuesday, he said: “The Marikana tragedy stands out as the darkest moment in the life of our young democracy.”

The official inquiry established by former president Jacob Zuma put much of the blame for the deaths on police tactics used to disperse the 3,000 strikers.

– ‘Died like flies’ –

In the days leading up to the attack, 10 other miners had been killed in violence related to the strike — including non-striking miners, security guards and two police officers who were hacked to death.

The commission found a police operation to forcefully remove the miners, a few of whom were armed, should not have been carried out.

It cleared senior government officials for any culpability in the incident, including then police minister Nathi Mthwethwa and former mines minister Susan Shabangu.

The report also took aim at Lonmin for failing to resolve the wage dispute or provide adequate protection for non-striking miners.

“These guys died like flies,” said miner Morris Siyimba during events in August to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the killings.

“That day I was lucky not to be shot.”

Ramaphosa made the comments, his clearest public pronouncements on his role in the tragedy since the public inquiry, in parliament as he responded to lawmakers’ questions on his agenda-setting State of the Nation Address.

Firebrand opposition MP Julius Malema challenged Ramaphosa shortly before he was sworn in as president last week on his response to the massacre at Marikana, telling journalists on Thursday: “Marikana is still waiting.”

In March, the government said it was prepared to pay 1.17 billion rand ($92 million) to cover 652 compensation claims made by families who lost relatives, miners who were injured and those who were unlawfully arrested.

The Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies (ISS) think-tank has called for fair compensation for those affected, prosecution of police officers who acted unlawfully and reforms to police recruitment and training.