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Marikana: Questions Nathi Mthethwa should answer

Gabi Falanga

As former police minister Nathi Mthethwa is set to begin his testimony at the Marikana commission, we focus on some questions he'll have to answer.

Former police minister Nathi Mthethwa. (David Harrison, M&G)

Former police minister Nathi Mthethwa is likely to face accusations that it was his intervention that triggered the killing of miners at Marikana in August 2012. Mthethwa begins his testimony at the Farlam commission of inquiry on Monday. 

Here are some questions he will have to answer. 

1. Whose decision was it that August 16 2012 would be D-day?
This is the day 34 striking miners were killed and over 70 injured when police opened fire on them. On that morning, North West police commissioner Lieutenant General Zukiswa Mbombo held a press conference where she informed the media that “today is D-day … we are ending this matter”.

2. What influenced the timing of this decision? And was the minister under political pressure to intervene at Marikana?
Mthethwa features prominently in emails sent by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to Lonmin chief commercial officer Albert Jamieson. Ramaphosa was ANC deputy president at the time and a Lonmin board member. He claims numerous times that he was in contact with the minister. Ramaphosa also claims to have told Susan Shabangu, minister of mineral resources at the time, to tell Mthethwa to “act in a more pointed way”.

3. Why was Mthethwa in contact with Ramaphosa, a Lonmin board member, and what was discussed? Did Mthethwa make decisions or instigate intervention as a result of pressure from Ramaphosa?

4. Did the minister put pressure on the national and provincial commissioners to take a certain course of action at Marikana?
National police commissioner Riah Phiyega’s original statement mentioned how she relayed information to Mthethwa and that she received advice from the minister. But she later amended her statement, deleting these two statements. She denies that she did this to protect the minister.

5. So what was discussed between the minister and Phiyega?
Mthethwa is likely to have to answer questions about the line between operational policing and political responsibility and what his role is in relation to this. Advocate Dali Mpofu, who represents the injured and arrested miners, told the commission in June 2013 that he would argue that Mthethwa had transgressed into the operational arena. 

6. Mthethwa may have to answer uncomfortable questions about the police’s “military” mentality and behaviour at Marikana in 2012.
Addressing Parliament in 2008, Mthethwa said that the police needed to “fight fire with fire”. In 2009, he was quoted on numerous occasions saying that the police would not hesitate to use “maximum force” against criminals, despite backtracking on this in 2012, a few months before the Marikana shootings.

In its statement to the Marikana commission, the South African Police Service (SAPS) claims police shot the miners in self defence. But its case has steadily been chipped away at by the contradictory testimonies of some of the police officers who were present at Marikana.

Mthethwa’s testimony is important, because should it emerge that there was political interference in the Marikana operations, the SAPS’s self-defence case is likely to fall apart completely. 

The commission is investigating the events which lead to 44 people being killed and over 70 injured during an unprotected strike at Marikana in 2012.

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