Judicial commission of enquiry for Marikana massacre?


Police minister Nathi Mthethwa has mooted a judicial commission of enquiry for a police shooting yesterday afternoon that left “more than 30” belligerent striking mineworkers dead. Speaking to 702 Talkradio, Mthethwa added the call would be President Jacob Zuma’s.

Police say 34 were killed and 78 more were wounded when part of a 3000-strong crowd of belligerent strikers charged police.

State news agency SA news says Zuma is concerned about the violent nature of the week-long protest, especially given that the Constitution and labour laws allow enough avenues to deal with issues, and is sympathetic to calls for a commission of inquiry. “We are shocked and dismayed at this senseless violence. We believe there is enough space in our democratic order for any dispute to be resolved through dialogue without any breaches of the law or violence,” he said last night.

Opposition parties and other groups are already calling for such an inquiry. The opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party has called on President Zuma “to launch a full Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana massacre and the questions that this has raised around the use of force by the South African Police Service (SAPS).”

Mthethwa’s DA shadow, Dianne Kohler Barnard says the “massacre which ensued and the use of live ammunition by the police have raised some very serious questions about how the SAPS manage violent protests. In particular, we want to know who authorised the use of live ammunition on the striking workers. We have to know what the line of command was for yesterday’s protest. Whoever gave the order to use live ammunition and open fire must be held accountable.”

She says Mthethwa approved a policy to better manage public protests last year August. “The policy called for the [re-]establishment of National Public Order Policing Units, which had been disbanded in 2006. One of the key principles of the policy was that members of these units would have to go through specialised training courses on how to manage public protests. It also highlighted the need for a strong line of command and control to ensure that all members involved in policing protest action know which role to play.
“The irony of this situation is that yesterday a revised policy document on public order policing was distributed for comment to various members of the SAPS. This begs the question as to whether the policy that was originally drafted was sufficient for public protests. The protest yesterday has shown the failure by the top management of the SAPS to implement this policy effectively, Kohler Barnard says.

The liberal think tank, the South African Institute of Race Relations, called for the immediate suspension of all police officers involved in the shooting at the Lonmin-owned mine in the central northern North West Province pending charges of murder and/or culpable homicide. There is clear evidence, the Institute said, that policemen randomly shot into the crowd with automatic rifles and handguns. “There is also evidence of their continuing to shoot after a number of bodies can be seen dropping and others turning to run. This is reminiscent of the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. “It would also appear as if they were not properly equipped to control a crowd. Rifles are a no-no in such a situation. “In our view,” the Institute said, “what happened at Lonmin is completely unacceptable. We hold no brief for the use of violence in labour or any other disputes. But even if the police were provoked or shot at during yesterday’s incident, or were angry at the killing of two police officers in the days before, no disciplined and properly trained policeman would shoot into a crowd. Yesterday’s incident was a disaster waiting to happen.
“In April last year, in an open letter to the minister of police after the killing of Andries Tatane at Ficksburg, we warned against unlawful police behaviour,” the Institute said. “That warning has been vindicated on television screens across the world. The use of violence in strikes or as a form of protest or political expression has tragically become routine, rather than exceptional, in recent years,” the Chief Executive of the Institute, John Kane-Berman, said. “This presents the police with a formidable challenge. All the more reason why they should long since have been trained to handle such situations lawfully, intelligently, and with restraint.”

Other commentators also likened the scenes, filmed by television crews, to apartheid-era footage of ranks of police opening fire on crowds of protesters in townships. “I cannot think of a confrontation between protesters and police since 1994 that has taken place along these lines,” Nic Borain, an independent political analyst told Business Day. The Azanian People’s Organisation, a political party, also likened the police action to the Sharpeville massacre of 1960 that galvanised resistance against apartheid.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and African People’s Convention, another party, joined the DA in the call for an inquiry into the police’s heavy-handed action. “We call on the president to order a full, expedited and independent investigation of whether police action was justified, proportional and necessary under the circumstances,” Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, IFP justice spokesman, said. The ruling African National Congress’ spokesman Jackson Mthembu said it needed to be determined who had caused the confrontation. “All of us feel very saddened by the violence we have seen on television.”

Business Day says the police operation was ostensibly mounted to disperse 3,000 protesting drill operators massed on an outcrop near the mine, 100km northwest of Johannesburg. The standoff involved heavily armed members of the elite SAPS tactical response unit and the national intervention unit, and members of the Association for Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), which is intent on replacing the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) at the mine. Many of the protesters were armed with machetes and sticks. Some had firearms.

Mthethwa extended his sympathies to the families of the victims, but asked “what should police do in such situations when clearly what they are faced with are armed and hardcore criminals who murder police?” his spokesman noted police initially tried to peacefully disperse the crowd, using water cannons and teargas, but this did not help. “We had a situation where people who were armed to the teeth, attacked and killed others even police officers and, for the record, one of the firearms used was that of our deceased police officer.” Ten people, including two security guards and two police officers died in the violence that has wracked the area since last Friday.

Meanwhile, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate will probe the police’s role. The investigation will seek to establish if the police action was proportional to the threat posed by the miners,” spokesman Moses Dlamini said. “It is still [too] early in the investigation to establish the real facts around this tragedy,” he said.

PIC: Reuters