/ 17 August 2012

Zuma announces inquiry into Marikana shooting

When the police finally told its side of the Marikana story
When the police finally told its side of the Marikana story

"We have to uncover the truth about what happened here. In this regard I've decided to institute and commission of inquiry. The inquiry will enable us to get to the real cause of the incident."

Zuma, who cut short his SADC meeting in Maputo to visit the site on Friday afternoon, offered his condolences to the families of those killed.

"We offer our sincere condolences to all the families who have lost loved ones. Our thoughts are also with those who are recovering in hospitals and clinics. Our thoughts are also with the police service who are at times called upon to intervene in difficult situations. The events of the past few days have unfortunately been visited upon a nation that is hard at work at addressing the challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality."

Zuma was careful to steer clear of blaming either side for sparking the violence that resulted in 34 deaths and 78 wounded.

"Today is not an occasion for blame, finger-pointing or recrimination. Today challenges us to restore calm and to share the pain of the affected families and communities."

"Having received the briefing … it is clear there is something serious behind these happenings and that's why I've taken the decision to form the commission."

"In a very short space of time, we will announce the results."

For Zuma's full speech click here.

'No choice'
When the police finally told its side of the Marikana story on Friday, it didn't speak of panic and mistakes, arguing instead that they "had no choice".

Video footage and witness interviews paint a definite picture of the Marikana shooting (the one national police commissioner Riah Phiyega says should not be referred to as a "massacre"): a small group of police, caught wrong-footed by aggressive protesters, firing in panic on the onrushing crowd. And perhaps using more live ammunition than is strictly necessary, in shock and in fear of their lives.

But on Friday, after nearly a full day of silence, the police did not speak of panic or mistakes. Instead it argued – without saying in so many words – that its members had done nothing wrong.

"The militant group stormed towards the police firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons," Phiyega said, reading from a prepared statement. "Police retreated systematically and were forced to utilise maximum force to defend themselves."

Police footage and documents, including aerial shots documenting events, argue persuasively that the group of miners were indeed militant and armed, and concertedly attacking. That is born out by the fact that the protesters were, apparently, not necessarily acting in a fully rational manner; the SAPS seemed to confirm swirling rumours that protesters had, under the ministration of a sangoma, come to believe that they were bullet-proof.

What neither documents nor police top management addressed, however, was the sheer number of shots directed at the onrushing protesters, leaving 34 dead and 78 injured. Numbers that look all the worse in contrast with the single policeman injured in the incident, and who had been discharged from hospital in less than a day. That disparity seems to stem from exactly the panic the police are now denying was present.

There are a number of other questions that remain unaddressed. As angry and concerned women protested near the site of the shooting, police said they had no mechanism in place for families to determine whether their loved ones were among the dead and injured. The SAPS did hope, however, to at least positively identify all the dead before the end of the day.

Nor could police say whether any of the 423 police members who were on the front lines of the confrontation had been suspended from duty, implying that at least some who had been involved in the shooting were still policing the area. That is directly contrary to regulations, although a fluid and remote situation means usual rules can be bent.

Amcu head Joseph Mathunjwa on Friday laid the blame for the Lonmin massacre on mine management, the National Union of Mineworkers and North West police.

Amcu distanced itself from the conflict at Lonmin mine and said the massacre could have been avoided had management made good on their commitments to workers.

Mathunjwa said management had reneged on commitments it had made to miners earlier in the week.

President Jacob Zuma has returned from a SADC summit in Mozambique to visit Rustenberg. The presidency said in a statement that Zuma was concerned about the violent nature of the protest. Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa also visited the area.

Ongoing violence
There has been ongoing violence in the area, with clashes between two rival unions at the mine – the older National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the decade-old Amcu.

Earlier this week Amcu and NUM blamed each other for the violence.

Mthunjwa presented two documents as evidence that the mine had made commitments to the miners that their grievances would be dealt with.

"Management could have stuck with their commitment … The commitment was once you're there peacefully at work, management will address your grievances through union structures," he said.

According to Mathunjwa, it was this about-turn that led workers to refuse to lay down their arms and leave the mountain.

Mathunjwa also slammed the media for characterising the conflict at Lonmin as a clash between the two unions.

"This is an infight of the members of NUM with their offices. It's got nothing to do with Amcu," he said.

Losing faith
According to Mathunjwa the workers on the koppie where the massacre took place were largely disgruntled NUM members who had lost faith in their union representatives.

"It's possible that Amcu members were there but its not Amcu that coordinated the protest on the mountain," he said.

He said Amcu's leaders had been called to the site on Monday to intervene in the standoff between workers and the mine, even though it did not represent those involved in the dispute.

"I pleaded with them. I said leave this place, they're going to kill you," said Mathunjwa, who later broke down in tears.

He denied that it had promised the workers that it could negotiate a wage of R12 500, as has been reported.

The two unions have been fighting for control of mines in the area. In February they clashed over membership at Impala Platinum mines in Rustenberg.

In the run-up to Thursday's confrontation with police, ten people including two police officers and two private security guards were killed and cars were torched.

Amcu calls for an external inquiry
Mathunjwa also said that recent allegations of links between Amcu and the PAC or the ANC Youth League were "baseless and unfounded".

"We have no relationship with any political movement in this country or outside this country," he said, adding that Amcu was "apolitical" and would " never ever" associate itself with any political party.

However, he also implied that politics had had an impact in how the situation unfolded.

He complained that the security detail extended to Amcu and NUM representatives who had gone to speak with the workers on Monday was withdrawn on Tuesday once the NUM leaders – who are part of both Cosatu and the SACP – left the area.

"You can draw the conclusion," he said.

Mathunjwa called for an independent, external inquiry – not conducted by the South Africa government – to identify the causes of the Lonmin massacre. He also gave assurances that Amco would "cooperate and support any action taken to deal with this issue".