Marinovich on Marikana and journalism
On 16 August, television cameras captured the police shooting at an advancing group of miners. When the police stopped shooting, the cameras showed bodies of the injured and dead. Official figures put the number of dead at 34. It was widely assumed that all 34 were killed in the incident captured on television. Last week Marinovich published an article on the Daily Maverick website which presented evidence that miners were executed at a koppie away from the scene we saw on television.
The Daily Maverick's introduction to Marinovich's article stated, "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. They were not caught in a fusillade of gunfire from police defending themselves, as the official account would have it."
Marinovich did not mince his words. He wrote, "And on the deadly Thursday afternoon, [the miner's] murderer could only have been a policeman. I say murderer because there is not a single report on an injured policeman from the day. I say murderer because there seems to have been no attempt to uphold our citizens’ right to life and fair recourse to justice."
Marinovich published another article on Sunday, corroborating his findings.
We asked Marinovich pressing questions about the role of journalists, the evidence he has uncovered and his interpretation of events.
GroundUp: You have gone more in depth that any other journalist on this topic, spending weeks in the field. Would it help get closer to the truth if more journalists were thoroughly investigating this story? Do we need a team (or teams) of journalists to get to the bottom of this?
GM: I wouldn't say that. I think other journalists have been spending more time there than I have. They've been there day in and day out. I haven't spent that much time there. I've made about seven day trips there.
It's about opening your eyes and looking at what people are telling you, looking at their stories.
GroundUp: Well you've certainly told a different story than a lot of other journalists.
GM: The Daily Maverick is a different kind of publication, it doesn't have some kind of news agenda. I'm being allowed to tell a story and that's what I'm doing. It's just a different approach. It's a quality approach. It's not a feed-the-system approach.
GroundUp: What do you think other journalists could do to get the story out there, to get to the bottom of the story?
GM: The Mail & Guardian has an investigative unit. There are investigative units that could do this. There's a preponderance within the media to rely on the spokespersons. If the spokesperson doesn't say it, then it doesn't count. And that's pretty sad.
Speak to the people involved, not the spokespeople. Spokespeople are paid to lie. Why do we print what they say all the time?
GroundUp: How and why did you get involved investigating Marikana? Why did you decide to do it in such an in depth way? What was it that drew you to the story?
GM: I went out there before the massacre. I saw these things had been building a bit so I wanted to see what was happening. I phoned people in the platinum industry who might have contacts for me. I knew that most of the miners spoke isiXhosa and Sotho and I thought "let me find a back door for this place," and I couldn't. And I thought let me just go and try to find what happens when I try to get in the mine. I don't want to spend time with the police watching things unfold. That's not how I do this. And I got to the hill and there were journalists who were there. Everyone I spoke to was speaking about the wage hike. They didn't speak about unrest between men or anything like that; that was a sideshow. I spent the next day putting my piece together and then I heard, "There's been a shooting." And I said, "With bullets? Rubber bullets?" And they said, "No with live ammunition." "Live, really?" All the time I was busy writing. It was only later that I heard there were 18 dead and then after two or three days we heard that it was 34 dead. I saw the footage and it was so dramatic, and I said "but where did the other people die?" I didn't think about where they died, I didn't know about the koppie at that time, but you couldn't say that 34 people died at the initial hill. You could see on news reports that 34 people didn't die. And then when I looked at the crime scene it was massive.
So I went over to speak to miners. I wanted to speak to miners about structural violence in the mines, about conditions that people live and work under, and to find out more about what happened. I was curious about why the police shot in then first place, about the stuff we saw on TV. It was such an all-consuming thing to watch. It's a mind-numbing experience.
I didn't hear about anything about the small koppie from those I spoke to initially. Then there was a piece by Mandy De Waal in the Daily Maverick which quoted Peter Alexander and I read it and she didn't go into it, but I thought I've got to go see this other site. I spoke to people who saw what happened on the outside. And then I went there and knew what to look for. The geography and the physical site--it was like wow! This wasn't chaos. This wasn't panic. This was something else that happened here. I tried to understand what the forensic markings meant, to get sources, to piece things together. We couldn't nail it down, but to me it was very clear that murder happened there. If I'm wrong, I'm wrong, and I'm willing to look like an idiot, but I don't think I'm wrong. And we [the Daily Maverick] went with it.
There are a lot of nay sayers in the media who keep quoting the police. What do you think the police are going to say about it? It's like we've learned nothing from being journalists under apartheid and that's quite appalling to me.
GroundUp: So what do you say to these "nay sayers", to those who say there isn't enough hard evidence to prove what you've put forth? Can you tell me a bit more about the koppie and the ballistic and forensic evidence that you did see there which makes you assert that murder did in fact take place?
GM: The pools of blood. People did die there. That's not in question. And it's been confirmed that 14 people died after the first article, which I've said in the second article. The markings indicate major points of evidence, but things that are completely apparent, like a body lying out, they don't mark. I didn't know that at first but then the more I investigated I learned more and put things together. It's a Pandora's box. And obviously this has provoked a lot of response. And people inside the investigation have approached us with this information.
GroundUp: So when you say that you're sure that 14 people have died at the koppie, did someone from the investigative team corroborate this?
GM: Yes, yes, I was lucky in that a source from the team confirmed this.
GroundUp: They confirmed the 14 bodies?
GM: Yes, they did it off the record, obviously.
There was a lot I had to learn about forensics, but now we know that N was a body, and G and H was a body, and X was a body ... I reported on a man who died whose funeral I went to and there were no markings for whatever reason, because they were scuffed for whatever reason. But this is where these people died and they died at the hands of police. We need autopsies, forensics, plus people under oath telling a judge what happened. That's not my job as a journalist. We're there to start these questions, and see how far we need to go to push the authorities to do the right work.
GroundUp: When you wrote your first article, were you able to get comment from the police, or the forensics team, or anyone like that?
GM: How? People have come forward subsequent to the first article, but not before. I don't know the names of policemen involved. But we were fair. We put it to the police and what more can we do? I'm just hoping that a couple of good honest police officers will talk, if not to me, then to somebody else.
GroundUp: Since your first article came out, have the SAPS or government responded?
GM: No. I've had no response since then. But you'll see we [the Daily Maverick] just published that civil society has finally made a statement.
GroundUp: I'm sure you've seen Phillip de Wet's piece in the Mail & Guardian over the weekend, which argues that considering several versions of what happened at Marikana, a person will believe "evidence" that is presented to them which fits what they've already read, their political views, etc. Essentially, he says, in the absence of conclusive evidence, "What happened at Marikana" is more about opinion, and less about fact. What do you say to de Wet's claim?
GM: Right, right, all that stuff about, "The blood could have been from animal sacrifices a week before." It's bullshit. Of course there's a real answer that we can come to. The forensics have got the bullets. They can match it. They've got the bodies. They've got all the evidence. We have videos of police killing miners at the front. Who do you think killed those people at the back there? Fairies?
GroundUp: Are you continuing your investigation? What can we expect from you going forward?
GM: There is more to come. I have more stuff, not on this specific topic, but on on related issues.
GroundUp: What would you say to other journalists working on this story? What do they need to do to have a more nuanced approach?
GM: Go take people's stories.