A retired judge toured the spot where police killed 34 striking platinum miners in August as he opened a judicial inquiry into South Africa’s bloodiest security incident since the end of apartheid.
Ian Farlam has four months to uncover the events surrounding the August 16 “Marikana massacre”, which sparked intense criticism not only of the police but also of mining bosses, unions, the ruling African National Congress (ANC) and President Jacob Zuma.
“Our country weeps because of the tragic loss, and this commission will work expeditiously to ensure the truth is revealed,” Farlam told a hearing in the platinum belt city of Rustenburg, 120 km (75 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, the town closest to the Lonmin-owned Marikana mine, Reuters reports.
The names of the 34 dead, most of them from the poor Eastern Cape province, were read out at the start of the inquiry before lawyers for the police, victims’ families and 270 miners arrested after the shootings locked horns over procedure.
The commission and its findings could be politically damaging to Zuma and the ANC, especially if security forces are found to have been as trigger-happy and ruthless as their apartheid predecessors.
However, the inquiry’s four-month timetable means its final findings will come after an internal ANC leadership election in mid-December.
Zuma is expected to be re-elected head of the ANC in the vote – teeing him up to win a second five-year term as South African president in 2014 – although he may face a serious challenge from Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe.
The leadership contest emerged from the party back rooms on Monday with the start of a two-month nationwide process to select candidates via local and then regional ANC branches.
Motlanthe has so far given no indication of his intentions and the official list of leadership candidates will not be known until the end of November.
As well as probing the August 16 shootings, the Marikana commission has a broader remit to look into labour relations, pay and accommodation in South Africa’s mines – issues seen as behind the wildcat strike that preceded the killings.