INVESTIGATION: President Jacob Zuma on Thursday announced the names of commissioners for the judicial commission of inquiry on the Marikana tragedy.
President Jacob Zuma

PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma dodged a scheduled visit to hand over houses in Marikana on Wednesday at the last minute, reinforcing perceptions that it is a no-go area for the head of state and his party.

African National Congress (ANC) spokesman Zizi Kodwa said it was a government event and referred queries to the Presidency. However, Mr Zuma’s visit was on the party’s programme of events ahead of its January 8 statement in Rustenburg, to which the build-up has been muted.

This is the second time the president has been a no-show in Marikana at an event that carries political significance. On Tuesday, ANC office-bearers Jessie Duarte, Cyril Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize were in North West for walkabouts but noticeably skipped Marikana, the site of the August 2012 mining strike that claimed 44 lives, most to police shootings.

There were reports of a group protesting in the area during the handover of houses that was attended by Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu.

Political analyst Dumisani Hlophe said there was confusion about the handover because on the one hand, this was billed as an ANC event, while on the other, it was characterised as a government exercise.

Also, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the United Democratic Movement had claimed the political space in Marikana and it would have been embarrassing if the president had gone there and was met with gestures of rejection or unfortunate placards, added Mr Hlophe.

"There was a high political risk of Mr Zuma going there, but his not visiting feeds into perceptions that there are no-go areas for the president," said Mr Hlophe.

"At some point, he has to go there. However, sufficient political groundwork has to be done for him to do so, including compensating the victims of Marikana."

But it would have been a huge political gamble for Mr Zuma to go there, noted Mr Hlophe.

In addition, "there has been no great fanfare about the January 8 statement, but the ANC needs to use this event as a platform to show it is in charge", he said.

EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi said the party had received reports that mine workers wearing the party’s T-shirts protested during the housing handover, but there was no confirmation that they were party members.

"Crimes against humanity were committed in Marikana. And the ANC, through its inaction, as well as its denying widows and workers compensation, has created the community’s hostility towards it and its president. No remorse has been shown for what happened," said Mr Ndlozi.

The Presidency issued a statement saying Ms Sisulu would hand over houses in Marikana and referred queries to her department, which had not replied by the time of publication.

Mr Kodwa said Mr Zuma would have conducted the visit in his capacity as the president of the country, while the Presidency said he would attend an ANC national executive committee meeting in Rustenburg later on Wednesday.

In April 2014, Mr Zuma was scheduled to go on a pre-election walkabout in Marikana, but he instead met community leaders in the nearby town of Brits.

In the wake of the 2012 events, high-level agreements were struck to roll out services and housing in Marikana. Mr Zuma also established an interministerial committee for the revitalisation of distressed mining communities.

With Karl Gernetzky