The fatal shooting of 34 people during the Marikana strike has no place in a modern South Africa, according to former police minister Nathi Mthethwa.
“Whatever happened there [Marikana] was not supposed to happen under democracy. Something terribly wrong took place there,” he testified at the Farlam commission of inquiry in Pretoria on Monday.
Mthethwa’s evidence relates to his role in police interventions during the strike by Lonmin miners in the North West in August 2012.
“It was a tragedy visiting our democracy in the country. It was indeed a tragedy,” he added.
Mthethwa, who is now arts and culture minister, explained to the inquiry his “maximum force” and “fighting fire with fire” remarks.
He made the latter remark to a parliamentary select committee on security in November 2008 and the former during a newspaper interview in 2009.
“Approaching criminals armed to the teeth, ready to kill at the slightest or no provocation, and policing ordinary citizens are two different things. There is no need for police to be heavy-handed when dealing with ordinary people,” said Mthethwa.
“Police have to defend themselves because there is fire out there. We went to areas to interact with members of the public. Ours is a caring government and there was no need to display something contrary to that as members of the South African police.”
Mthethwa was police minister when 34 people, mostly striking Lonmin mineworkers, were shot dead in a clash with police in Marikana, near Rustenburg, North West, on August 16 2012. More than 70 were wounded, and another 250 arrested at the company’s platinum mining operations.
In the preceding week, 10 people, including two police officers and two security guards, were killed. The commission is investigating the 44 deaths.
In his sworn statement to the inquiry, Mthethwa sought to dispel allegations of political influence. “During the cross-examination of the [North West] police provincial commissioner [Zukiswa Mbombo], it was suggested that she allowed political considerations to influence her decisions. This is not true.
“As the political head, I did not seek to bring political pressure on the provincial commissioner,” Mthethwa wrote in the affidavit.
Mthethwa said the accusations of collusion between business and government were unfortunate. “In a democratic society, the relations between capital, labour and civil society is one that requires ongoing attention in finding solutions that are in the public interest,” he said.
“Any such interaction is no manifestation of toxic collusion.” – Sapa