The Presidency says it will later this week announce the terms of reference for what it says will be a judicial commission of inquiry into a police shooting at Marikana in the North West Province last week Thursday.
Police, using R5 assault rifles and 9mm pistols, killed 34 belligerent striking mineworkers and wounded 78 more. Police also used baton rounds, tear gas and stun grenades against thousands of striking Lonmin platinum mine employees – contrary to standing orders.
President Jacob Zuma mooted the commission of inquiry Friday when he visited the scene. “The inquiry will enable us to get to the real cause of the incident, and to derive the necessary lessons,” Zuma said during a media briefing afterwards. He added it was not the time to apportion blame on anyone but to rather mourn as a nation.
“We assure the South African people in particular, that we remain fully committed to ensuring that this country remains a peaceful, stable, productive and thriving nation that is focused on improving the quality of life of all, especially the poor and the working class,” he said. Zuma was flanked by North West Premier Thandi Modise, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu.
Zuma continued he had been “saddened and dismayed by the events of the past few days and hours around the Marikana mine”. Zuma said the “loss of life among workers and members of our police service is tragic and regrettable”.
City Press newspaper reported Zuma suggested a sinister motive behind the shootings, saying he didn’t expect such incidents in a country with a “high level” of labour organisation. The paper yesterday suggested that the questions the commission would have to answer should include:
» Why did police use live ammunition after an order was issued last year forbidding the use of even rubber bullets during public protests?
» Why didn’t the country’s intelligence services pick up on the brewing tension at the mine and take the appropriate action? Intelligence spokesman Brian Dube said: “We refuse to be drawn into a blame game.”
» Who supplied the newly made traditional weapons carried by thousands of angry miners? Frans Baleni, general secretary of the National Union of Mineworkers, said: “I went to see those weapons that were being carried and they are scary. They were manufactured. I was told there was a workshop they went to in order to get metal into certain shapes. They were made to kill with.”
Opposition Democratic Alliance party Shadow Minister of Police Dianne Kohler Barnard MP added:
>> Who authorised the use of live ammunition at the mine?
>> Who was in command of the various police units at the mine?
>> Who issued the order to fire?
>> Who was responsible for planning the operation?
>> On what intelligence was the planning conducted?
>> How many police, who participated in the operation, were actually trained in (a) public order policing and (b) the use of the weapons with which they were issued?
>> Whether there has been incitement to violence by any of the labour organisations involved.
Others have asked why police did not cease fire when an officer called on them to do so and questioned the police command-and-control system and practices in use to command and control a large group of police apparently drawn in small groups from numerous units and police stations.
Police have in recent years reduced their available arsenal of public order equipment. Late last year police officers were ordered to stop using “rubber” bullets (plastic baton rounds), except as a “last resort”, during efforts to control public protests – in stark contrast to the live rounds used by officers at Lonmin.
City Press added that on December 20 last year, Lieutenant General Elias Mawela, divisional commissioner for operational response services (responsible for maintaining public order), issued a memo clearly aimed at reducing the potential for violence in the police response to public protests. “The order, in the possession of City Press, was circulated to all provincial police bosses.”
The document made a clear reference to the outcry following the death of community activist Andries Tatane, who was shot with rubber bullets during a service delivery protest in Ficksburg in April 2011. “The use of rubber rounds and shotguns must be stopped with immediate effect,” the memo states.
Water cannons should be used instead, but according to the Institute for Security Studies’ Johan Burger, there are only 10 of these water cannons in the country.
“Less lethal methods to manage crowds must be implemented. Negotiations are still the first resort. A gradual response such as the use of pyrotechnics, water cannons and the 40mm launcher must then be used,” the document reads. “The purpose of offensive actions must be to de-escalate conflict with the minimum level of force to accomplish the goal. The degree of force must be proportional to the seriousness of the situation and the threat posed in terms of situational appropriateness,” says the memo. “The use of force must always be reasonable in the circumstances and force must be discontinued once the objective has been achieved.”
Johan Burger from the Institute for Security Studies said as far as he was aware, these instructions still stood. “What I do know is that something must have changed ¬because the police have been using rubber bullets and shotguns again for some time.” Burger also referred to Mthethwa’s statement of two weeks ago recommending the use of water cannons.
“Unfortunately, the minister did not take into account the fact that there are only 10 water cannons in the country and each year more than 10 000 incidents of crowd control occur,” he told City Press. “I support the use of rubber bullets because the police then have more options regarding non-lethal violence, of course if it is used correctly, and not like in Ficksburg,” he said – where a protester (Tatane) was shot in the chest at very short range and killed outright.
The Institute for Democracy in Africa’s Paul Graham said after 1994 there was an emphasis on training the police to control crowds using less lethal methods. “This seems all to have gone out the window. There is a real problem with training and procedures. Even the special task force of the police which was present at the shooting seems to lack specific procedures,” he said. “The order you are referring to implies there is still a huge amount of confusion in the police on crowdcontrol issues,” Graham said to City Press.
Police ministry spokesman Zweli Mnisi said the ministry had reviewed public order policing to ensure that public protests were “effectively managed, with clear guidelines to the police. This should not be misunderstood to imply that armed people should attack police and that ¬police would not defend themselves. As much as it is the responsibility of police to manage such protests within the framework of the law, the responsibility of protesters is equally important.
“That is what our Constitution speaks of; the rights of citizens to express their grievances in an orderly, peaceful and mature manner. Nowhere in the Constitution does it stipulate that people must burn property, intimidate those citizens who wish not to partake in a protest, and even kill police and innocent citizens, yet disguise and justify such actions behind a banner of protesting.”
He declined to comment further on the Marikana incident, saying they would respect the commission of inquiry announced by Zuma.
National police commissioner Riah Phiyega has said her forces opened fire in self-defence after coming under attack from armed mineworkers. “The militant group stormed toward the police, firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons,” Phiyega told the same news conference Zuma attended. “Police retreated systematically and were forced to utilise maximum force to defend themselves.”
Despite Zuma announcing a week of mourning, Phiyega told police not to be sorry about the shooting. “Safety of the public is not negotiable. Don’t be sorry about what happened,” Phiyega was quoted as saying by the Sowetan newspaper. She was speaking at policeman Warrant Officer Sello Ronnie Lepaku’s funeral on Sunday Lepaku was one of the officers who was killed, allegedly by protesting miners last Monday.
But others say the task of the police are to bring alleged offenders before the courts, not to kill them. The Ceasefire Campaign, a demilitarisation organisation committed to reducing violence and arms, said it was “appalled at the manner in which the police responded to the miners. We are aware that the miners themselves have been embroiled in conflict resulting in a number of brutal murders. This, however, does not excuse the police’s actions.
“We have noted before that police do not practice sufficient restraint in crowd control situations and the current incident confirms this. ‘Kragdadigheid’ (brute macho force), a word often used to describe the attitude of the apartheid police, seems appropriate here. This approach is reflected in the extensive firepower that was on display before the police opened fire possibly under the mistaken belief that it would deter the crowd. History has taught us that weaponry tends to aggravate a tense situation.
“The national police spokesman is quoted as saying that they had accommodated the miners for four days during which time there had been loss of life and that they had to use force. This is no excuse. There is no indication of what steps the police took in the days before when the warning signs were so evident. The standoff with management, the clash between the unions, and the dismal working conditions of the miners have contributed to the festering discontent. But as things seemed to reach new heights in the last few days, it seemed that there was very little effort to defuse the situation. South Africa is known for its negotiated peaceful settlement to the end of apartheid. Why are the police so lacking in negotiation and conflict resolution skills?”