Featured image (courtesy of Jakob Krameritsch): Anglican Bishop Jo Seoka addresses the BASF shareholder meeting in 2015.
by Koketso Moeti
BASF is a huge corporate that gives Lonmin a lot of business. Today, April 29, in Germany they are gathered for their annual shareholder meeting. Along with the usual shareholders who attend these meetings there’ll be some less familiar faces, two of the women made widows by the Marikana massacre.
Thirty-four miners brutally gunned down with hundreds more injured. A whole community left confused and grieving. That’s the aftermath of the Marikana massacre, a day in August 2012 when the South African Police Service opened fire on people who had gathered to call for a living wage from their employer, the multinational mining company Lonmin.
Ten others were killed in the lead up to the massacre and another, Paulina Mushulo, was killed during what was described as a “de facto state of emergency” during which “illegal” gatherings were banned in the community.
Almost four years later, Lonmin has never accepted any responsibility for what happened. The families of those slain continue to struggle to make ends meet. As the battle for compensation continues there’s been very little improvement in conditions of the community.
Lonmin clearly won’t do the right thing on its own. This despite its complicity in the poor conditions in which mineworkers lived and the role it played in creating the conditions that led to the Marikana massacre. A damning report claiming that the company could afford the living wages demanded by the mine workers was also released. The report by the Alternative Information and Development Centre claims that Lonmin was involved in profit shifting and abusing the transfer price mechanism.
But those affected are now taking the battle for corporate accountability to a principal customer of Lonmin, BASF.
BASF, a chemical company, prides itself on how it combines “economic success with environmental protection and social responsibility”. But can it really claim this when it continues to be the largest customer of Lonmin, a company with blood on its hands.
In 2015, during the BASF annual shareholder meeting, Anglican Bishop Jo Seoka told those present that one of their most important platinum suppliers was co-responsible for murder, human-rights violations and the inhumane living conditions of its workers.
He further asked, “What do you say about this and what are you prepared to do to improve the lives of those who contribute towards your wealth”.
BASF’s response at the time was to claim that they could not comment on the matter as the Farlam Commission’s report had not yet been published. They also assured those present that “we [BASF] have every interest that our suppliers adhere to internationally recognised standards for responsible conduct. We express this in our discussions with them”.
Almost a year later, the Farlam report is now public and its findings include that Lonmin did not sufficiently try to engage with workers on ending the strike or protect its employees. The report also recommended that Lonmin “be investigated for knowing the risks but failing to protect employees”.
In the lead up to this year’s BASF shareholder meeting, Ntombizolile Mosebetsane and Agnes Makopano Thelejane, widows of slain miners, along with Bishop Seoka and representatives of the Khulumani Support Group have undertaken a speaker’s tour exploring how far the voluntary “supply chain responsibility” of the German industry reaches.
The tour began with an exhibition titled “Widows of Marikana”, which opened on April 20. The work presented the original work of the widows, along with a photo exhibition by Khanya College about Marikana. The tour ends at the shareholder meeting today where the widows and Bishop Seoka will speak on behalf of the Marikana mineworkers and the relatives of the miners that were killed.
They will have travelled a long way to stand in front of a room full of strangers, asking them to use their power to push for justice for the Marikana families. While no amount of money can return the dead or undo the damage done, BASF taking a stand could be the beginning of a quest for justice not only for Marikana, but the many communities across South Africa where mining companies have grossly abused workers, the environment and the communities in which they work.
First published by the New Age and Mail and Guardian and is supported by the Heinrich Boll Foundation.