25 Jun 2015

Marikana massacre: police tactics ‘defective’ – commission

South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma presents the findings of the long-awaited commission of inquiry into the massacre of striking miners in Marikana in 2012 – saying police tactics were “defective”.

President Zuma said the police tactics to attempt to forcibly remove armed strikers from an area known as the “Koppie” on 16 August were flawed, and that they should have waited until the next day when a plan to encircle the miners and offer tham an exit, where they would hand over weapons, could have taken place, writes @InigoGilmore.

“The commission has found that in would have been impossible to disarm and disperse the strikers without significant bloodshed on the afternoon of the 16 August,” he said.

“The police should have waited until the following day when the original unsettlement plan which was substantially risk free wcould have been implemented.”

The commission also had criticism for Lonmin, which operated the Marikana mine, as well as two mining unions.

He said Lonimin “did not use its best endeavours” to resolve disputes with miners and did not ensure the safety of its employees, including non-striking miners.

The unions, the National Union of Miners on the Lonmin side of the dispute and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union on the side of the strikers, “failed to exercise effective control” over their memberships, President Zuma reported.

However, President Zuma said the Commission found accusations of responsibility levelled at South African Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa were “groundless”.

The massacre

The incident sent shockwaves around the world and dashed hopes that massacres at the hands of the police, which occurred under apartheid, were things of the past.

Perhaps as a foretaste of how he might interpret and act upon the report, Mr Zuma this week defended the police who shot dead the 34 striking platinum mineworkers. “Those people in Marikana had killed people and the police were stopping them from killing,” the president said on Tuesday in comments that were widely condemned.

The trauma of the Marikana massacre has seeped deep into South Africa’s national consciousness.

In August 2012 Miners, protesting for better wages, were suddenly confronted by hundreds of armed police. The miners were shot dead but not a single officer was injured. Yet, the police have always insisted they acted in self-defence.

A marathon commission of inquiry into what happened, led by retired judge Ian Farlam, finished late last year and was handed over to Mr Zuma nearly three months ago.

Lawyers at the commission argued that eyewitness testimony and video evidence dismantled the police’s case. In the months after the massacre, Channel 4 News uncovered startling police footage that seriously challenged the force’s claims of self-defence – with one officer boasting that he shot a miner 12 times.

As the commission went on, damning evidence against the police mounted. In one chilling detail, it emerged that four mortuary vans were ordered to Marikana just hours before the shooting, as well as 4,000 extra rounds of ammunition. Most of the miners who were killed were shot in the back or in the head – some in the back of the head. Some victims appeared to have been handcuffed. Others had weapons planted on them as part of an alleged cover up.

Apart from investigating the shootings, the Farlam commission had a broader remit to look into labour relations, pay and accommodation in South Africa’s mines – issues seen as behind the strike that preceded the police shootings.