Marikana tragedy: Who authorised the use of live ammunition?

Members of Parliament on Tuesday demanded the inquiry, announced by President Jacob Zuma on Friday, investigate who authorised the use of live ammunition on the striking workers.

The incident left 34 people dead and more than 70 injured last week.

In a fiery parliamentary debate on Tuesday about the Lonmin platinum mine tragedy Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa emphasised the responsibilities that the Constitution imposes on citizens, but opposition MPs said the Constitution has been breached and whoever gave the instruction to the police to use live ammunition should be held accountable for the deaths of 34 striking workers.

Mthethwa said Thursday's event could have been avoided "if all of us had adhered to the noble principles of our Constitution".

He said the Constitution guarantees rights and imposes responsibilities on the citizens of the republic.

Mthethwa cited section 17 of the Constitution which assures the citizens the right to "peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and present petition and section 205 which speaks specifically to the South African Police Service and enjoins the members of the service to 'prevent, combat and investigate crime, maintain public order, protect and secure the inhabitants of the republic and their property and uphold and enforce the law'."

He said the police as part of our security services are always and at all material times guided by the Constitution of the Republic. The police did all in their power to avert (a violent) situation, he said.

"As we indicated above, the Constitution of the Republic guarantees us the right to strike, to protest in a peaceful orderly manner to express our dissatisfaction with anything. While all South Africans enjoy these rights, rights always come with responsibilities," said Mthethwa.

But leaders of the opposition parties came out guns blazing demanding answers on who authorised the use of live ammunition, and also called for a broad and data-driven commission of inquiry.

Lack of leadership
The Democratic Alliance's Lindiwe Mazibuko said the tragedy spoke of a lack of top-level leadership and of ministerial accountability.

She said the judicial commission of inquiry should specifically establish who authorised the use of live ammunition on the striking workers, within the context of how the police manage violent strikes. "Whoever authorised the use of live ammunition must be held accountable.

"It must also be revealed on what, if any, intelligence was the planning was conducted; and if the national police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, exercised appropriate judgment and leadership. At what point did she intervene?"

Mazibuko said the commission should also carefully examine the conduct and Mthethwa's role adding that: "In most democracies, a crisis of this magnitude would have immediately precipitated the resignation of the minister, and, in many cases, the fall of the government.

"The DA is concerned that no one in this government seems to be assuming political responsibility for the [tragedy]. We need accountability now."

She added that police minister, the secretaries general of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), and the chief executive officer of Lonmin should carefully consider their positions, and offer their resignations. "Their position is untenable."

Congress of the People president, Mosioua Lekota reiterated that the incident was avoidable "had we only stuck to the provisions of our Constitution".

Lekota blamed the "militarisation" of police, especially highlighting the introduction of military ranks to the police service. He said this had prepared the "young" police officers in a manner which resulted in an outcome like the Marikana tragedy.

He said while the Constitution prescribed for a police service and not a police force, Zuma introduced military ranks. "When the authors of the Constitution decided on a police service, and not on a militarised police force, they had been informed by what had happened in the past under the then police force."

Lekota said whoever authorised the use of live ammunition was in breach of the Constitution.

"In this country, the Constitution does not allow death sentence, who is this authority who has the right to say to the police shoot with live ammunition that was definitely going to take lives … Who was this person who is above the Constitution, who had the authority to decide that this right to life will be suspended today, for this moment and therefore shoot? … Who had the authority to waive the right of the people to life and to mow down those numbers of people that were slaughtered on that day there," asked Lekota.

The Inkatha Freedom Party's Velaphi Ndlovu questioned the presence of the police in Marikana, saying they had been used by management.

"Why did the police go there, who called them? Workers were not on the mine property and didn't pose any threat to the management."

Civilian leadership
The appointment of a civilian to top police leadership also came into question.

United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa, who visited Marikana with other leaders of the opposition parties on Monday, said incidents like Marikana were here to stay, "unless we do away with the deployment of people with no professional police background to senior SAPS levels to command juniors with military training".

"Perhaps, it is time for this House to review the mechanism of civilian oversight in the SAPS. Should we not confine civilian oversight to the office of the Minister and let experienced police personnel run SAPS?"

Holomisa also questioned the tactics the police used to disarm and disperse striking mineworkers.

He then suggested that Parliament should closely monitor these salary negotiations given the questionable involvement of the police in this labour dispute. "We should not lose sight of the fact that both NUM and Amcu workers have one thing in common. They demand a salary adjustment."

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