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South Africa’s police have been severely criticised over the shooting of 34 striking miners, with an inquiry into the 2012 Marikana killings calling for a further probe to ascertain the criminal liability of the officers involved in the bloodshed.
Reading a summary of the Marikana Commission report, Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president, said it recommended that an investigation also be held into the fitness for office of Ria Phiyega, the national police chief.
However, the commission absolved other senior government officials, including Cyril Ramaphosa, the deputy president, of any blame, Mr Zuma said.
At the time of the shooting on August 16 2012, Mr Ramaphosa, one of South Africa’s richest black businessmen, was a shareholder and non-executive director at Lonmin the London-listed platinum producer that operated the Marikana mine at which the men who died had worked.
The shooting of the miners, who were on a wildcat strike demanding higher wages and better conditions, was the worst episode of security force-related violence since the dawn of democracy almost 21 years ago. The bloodshed rocked the nation and put intense scrutiny on the mining industry that has been the bedrock of South Africa’s economy for more than 100 years. At least 10 people, including two policemen, died in violence related to the strike in the days preceding the tragedy.
Lawyers representing miners wounded and arrested during the strike gave evidence to the commission that Mr Ramaphosa had exerted political pressure that led to the tragedy. Mr Ramaphosa, who was appointed deputy president after last year’s elections, had denied the allegations.
In a televised address, Mr Zuma said the report found the accusations against Mr Ramaphosa were “groundless”.
The report, which is more than 600 pages long, was not immediately released, but Mr Zuma said it would be posted on government websites.
The government-appointed commission, which sat for more than two years, criticised Lonmin for failing to use “its best endeavours to resolve the dispute” and failing to “respond appropriately to the threat of, and the outbreak of, violence,” Mr Zuma said.
“Lonmin also failed to employ sufficient safeguards and measures to ensure the safety of its employees,” he said. “Lonmin also insisted that its employees who were not striking should come to work despite the fact it knew that it was not in a position to protect them from attacks by strikers.”
The report condemned Lonmin’s implementation of its social and labour plans – the poor conditions of miners were seen to have fuelled their frustration and militancy.
Ben Magara, Lonmin’s chief executive, said the commission’s findings would “need our detailed consideration” before the company provided “considered responses”.
“We as a company have already moved a long way towards building a more open, transparent and mutually trusting environment,” he said. “I cannot say that we have fully achieved this yet, but I can say that we have made progress.”
Unions also came under fire for not doing more to prevent the violence.
But it was the police that received the severest condemnation. The commission found that the plan implemented by police to encircle and disarm the miners – many of whom had traditional weapons such as spears, machetes and wooden clubs – “was defective in a number of respects”, Mr Zuma said.
“The commission has found that it would have been impossible to disarm and disperse the strikers without significant bloodshed, on the afternoon of the 16th of August,” Mr Zuma said.
The striking miners had been gathering on a rocky outcrop near the mine and the police’s initial plan was to attempt to disarm arm them early in the morning when there were only a few workers present. However, the operation was launched in the afternoon when as many as 3,000 miners had gathered.
The report found that the decision to move ahead with the plan was not taken by “the tactical commanders on the ground” but by the police’s senior leadership.
The commission also found “that there was a complete lack of command and control” at a second outcrop where police shot 17 miners who had fled the initial shooting, Mr Zuma said.
Bonita Meyersfeld, director of the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, which represented the South African Human Rights Commission at the inquiry, said the fact that the full report was to be released, and that an investigation into the police appeared likely, was better than many people had hoped for. But she cautioned that much would depend on the detail.
“Only once we see what they specifically recommended and once we see how they balance the interests from the miners and affected communities, against the imperatives of taking [measures] against the police services will we really know if it’s a fair report,” she said. “Then it will depend on how much [the government] are prepared to move and take those recommendations forward.”
(c) 2015 The Financial Times Ltd.
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