Marikana: Watershed moment for online journalism in SA as Daily Maverick sets ed agenda

Date posted: September 11, 2012


by Herman Manson (@marklives)  In the immediate wake of the Marikana massacre, where police shot dead 34 miners on August 16th and wounded dozens more, newspaper and TV news crews were reporting on the casualty lists, the views of union bosses and politicians.

Yet one of the first stories on (August 17th) by Greg Marinovich and filed for the Daily Maverick (DM), a website becoming known for its quality journalism and opinion, was quick to recognise the broader scope of the conflict, not just at Marikana where initial reports were putting the death toll at just over a dozen, but also the impact on the mining industry, which despite its declining output and influence on the economy remains a political minefield, a major employer, and closely association with what foreign investors take for the South African economy. Marinovich set the scene; “It looks like war. It is a war. A war of survival, certainly for the miners, and perhaps for the future of Rustenburg’s platinum mines too.”

By August 20th Ranjeni Munusamy, also writing for DM, went well beyond reporting the spluttering defence Cosatu bosses were still offering the police service. “We might never know what was in the minds of mineworkers who advanced on police before the first blast of gunfire was heard at Marikana or how it felt for officers to squeeze the triggers of their R5s, raining down live rounds on other human beings. What we do know now is that they should never have had to encounter each other on that dusty field where mindless horror reigned,” wrote Munusamy. “Questions need to be asked of those who failed both the dead and those who killed them.”

Public and international outrage at what had happened on the killing fields of Marikana had been gradually rising – a point politicians and sections of the mainstream press failed to recognise. An exception would be DM – it had recognised Marikana as potentially the biggest news story in South Africa leading up to the ANC elective conference at Mangaung and was pushing its editorial resources (by last week as many as five members of its twenty strong editorial team) into the field to report on and investigate events. Although the reportage had been impressive in its scope and quality it was a story filed by DM journalist Mandy de Waal* which would set the publication on course to change the narrative of unfolding events dramatically.

De Waal filed a story on the August 23rd reporting that “a theory is emerging that the police manoeuvre at Marikana that left so many miners dead was a deliberate and deadly act” and that “activists and rights officials at the scene of Lonmin’s killing fields are accusing the police of tampering with evidence.”

De Waal had quoted Peter Alexander, a professor from the University of Johannesburg and a special interest in industrial conflict, that in geographic terms, the killings at Marikana was “more extensive than it has been portrayed in the media to date.”

“What was apparent to me on both Saturday and Monday, when the ministerial group was there, was that journalists just stand around but don’t really investigate or speak to any of the workers,” Alexander told de Waal, and also mentioned a place locals have started referring to as ‘killing koppie.’ Suddenly evidence suggested more than one killing field at Marikana.

“Media coverage of the Marikana shootings showed one killing point close to a gap in the razor wire that was rolled out by the SAPS to contain strikers,” wrote de Waal in her report which would run to 2500 words. “Television footage of the protest area shows most of the action from this vantage point. Tear gas is fired. One sees miners charging towards the police. Then there’s the volley of police fire. As dust clears one sees a number of corpses and injured bodies, but nowhere near the police figure for the dead which is set at 34.”

The more realistic view of what had happened at Marikana was emerging and being reported on on the pages of the Daily Maverick. Everything the media and the public knew was about to be upended. Not by the (very well regarded and paid) investigative journalism teams of Media24 or Avusa. But by the Daily Maverick. Newsroom: twenty.

It was de Waal’s story that set Marinovich (a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer and co-author of The Bang Bang Club) to write and publish, on September 3, a report which would now set the editorial agenda on the Marikana massacre. “Some of the miners killed in the 16 August massacre at Marikana appear to have been shot at close range or crushed by police vehicles,” wrote Marinovich. They were not caught in a fusillade of gunfire from police defending themselves, as the official account would have it.”

“It is becoming clear to this reporter that heavily armed police hunted down and killed the miners in cold blood,” wrote Marinovich. “A minority were killed in the filmed event where police claim they acted in self-defence. The rest was murder on a massive scale.”

“The facts have been fed by the police, various state entities and by the media that the strikers provoked their own deaths by charging and shooting at the forces of law and order,” Marinovich continued. “Indeed, the various images and footage can be read to support this claim.

“The contrary view is that the striking miners were trying to escape police rubber bullets and tear gas when they ran at the heavily armed police task team (our version of SWAT). The result was the horrific images of a dozen or so men gunned down in a fusillade of automatic fire.”

The Daily Maverick articles helped change the dynamics of the public debate around the massacre. This directly affected the public and media response round the subsequent attempt by the National Prosecuting Authority to charge 270 miners arrested at Marikana with the murder of those shot and killed by the police force (the charges has since been dropped following a public outcry).

Injustice is often followed by injustice. Through its investigative efforts the Daily Maverick has, directly and indirectly, served the cause of justice, and in spite of a sometimes lukewarm response from some of their print rivals, seemingly forever spinning downwards towards the lowest common denominator, reminded us of the role journalism should and can play in holding (political) power accountable. At least in as much as the public institutions set up to protect the public are prepared to act on the information presented to them in spite of the best efforts of those tasked with wiping away and hiding that deemed politically inconvenient.

* Mandy de Waal is a contributing editor to MarkLives.

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