Probe into S.Africa Marikana killing comes to an end

13th November 2014, Comments 0 comments

A South African probe into the killing of 34 striking miners at Marikana comes to a close Friday, as lawyers wrap up their closing arguments more than two years after the shooting.

The 34 strikers were gunned down by police at the Lonmin platinum mine north of Johannesburg during a work stoppage in August 2012.

The police have taken the brunt of the criticism during the inquiry, accused not only of using excessive force against the miners, but also of a widespread cover-up.

Lawyers said officers had engaged in "a deliberate attempt to mislead" the investigation.

August 16, 2012 saw the worst violence witnessed in South Africa since the advent of democracy in 1994.

The events have become a lightning rod for criticism of the police and prompted unfavourable comparisons between President Jacob Zuma's government and authoritarian apartheid regimes.

The Farlam Commission of Inquiry was established by Zuma to investigate the events at Marikana.

It has the power to recommend certain individuals be investigated and criminally charged.

But the inquiry was plagued by delays from the outset and has been criticised as a legal free-for-all, with lawyers -- representing the police, the mineral resources ministry, Lonmin, two separate mining unions, South Africa's Human Rights Commission, the families of the victims, and their injured and arrested colleagues -- raking in vast fees.

Police lawyers have defended the actions of the officers against the "panga (machete)-wielding strikers".

In the days before the shooting, 10 others were killed by some of the strikers, including two police officers who were hacked to death.

"Bearing arms against a lawful authority should provoke widespread outrage," police lawyers said in their closing arguments.

"A career in the police service should not be a death warrant.

"The police also blamed mining house Lonmin.

The company was widely criticised during the inquiry for failing to engage with the workers' wage demands.

Labour unions have said the "collusion" between Lonmin and the police was designed to "break the strike" that was costing the company money, while the police described their involvement as "not conducive to sound industrial relations".

Lonmin has also been blamed for the murders of its security guards and non-striking miners.

"By threatening to dismiss employees who failed to report for work during the unprotected strike, Lonmin recklessly exposed its employees not participating in the strike to harm," said police lawyers.

Families of the victims have said they hold Lonmin responsible for the deaths.

The mining house has denied any responsibility.

Its lawyers said criticism of the company's handling of the labour dispute "would essentially mount to criticism of Lonmin for having acted within the legal framework".

A number of the legal teams involved in the inquiry have recommended that senior police officials -- including the former police minister Nathi Mthethwa and national police commissioner Riah Phiyega -- be investigated on charges on murder.

They have also argued that Lonmin executives should be charged as accomplices to murder.

- 'Political interference' - But lawyers for the survivors of the shooting have fingered South Africa's deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa as the main culprit.

Ramaphosa contacted the ministers of police and mineral resources in the days leading up to the massacre, pushing for police intervention in a strike that had already turned deadly.

Ramaphosa was not in government at the time, but a non-executive director of Lonmin and a senior leader in the ruling ANC party.

This "political interference" was the catalyst for the shooting, said lawyer Dali Mpofu.

"If you are not going to charge Mr Ramaphosa, don't charge anybody," Mpofu told the inquiry Wednesday.

"You cannot have a situation where the source of the political pressure, the person who ignited the whole chain which resulted in the massacre, is not charged.

"Ramaphosa has maintained he was simply trying to prevent further violence.

The commission has until the end of March next year to present a report to the president.


© 2014 AFP

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