Marikana: We must not avoid asking the hard questions
Jacob Zuma has not yet risen to the occasion and it may well now be too late for him to do so. One body of opinion has it that Marikana is the straw that will break his camel's back, that it has convinced any last doubters that the Polokwane project was a great big mistake. Another has it that, instead, it will help to save Zuma at Manguang because Marikana is the "wake-up call" to the dangers of organisational disunity.
We will see.
In the meantime, whatever the president is doing behind the scenes is not enough because a crisis like this needs maximum visibility from the highest levels of leadership.
Others are stepping into the void. Stirred by Marikana's painful reminder of pre-1994 outrages, civic organisations are rediscovering their voices and playing significant roles in both mediating peace and dealing with the consequences of the conflict. It is good to see, for example, the South African Council of Churches' admirable Jo Seoka showing such leadership.
Instead of the government's response becoming more measured and consistent as the crisis develops, as one would expect, it has become more, not less, erratic - one moment talking tough, with the kragdadigheid of the increased police presence and the panicky decision to call in the army, the next blaming "instigators" (very PW Botha, that) and the bizarre Zanu-like "blame the British" statement from the ANC.
Who is in charge? Who is leading the state's response? It is far from clear. Zuma's first statement, the day after the massacre, emphasised that there should be no pointing of fingers of blame. Now, with Zuma himself all but silent, others are doing exactly that, pre-empting the commission of inquiry. And, meanwhile, the portfolio committee on justice bizarrely complains about the South African Human Rights Commission's decision to conduct its own investigation, saying it is "baffled" by the "duplication of resources".
Nature of the crisis
It smacks of an establishment that has not quite grasped the nature of the crisis. What would be baffling would be the human rights commission deciding not to do its work, given the myriad human rights infringements that appear to have taken place.
It is certainly true that the Farlam commission must play the central role, but the complexity of the matter suggests that the more angles of inquiry the better. Besides, however well-organised the commission is, there is no guarantee that it will be able to deliver one exhaustive narrative of truth.
For guidance, we should look at the publication last week in Britain of the report of an expert panel, chaired by the Bishop of Liverpool, that investigated the causes of the Hillsborough tragedy of April 15 1989 when 96 soccer fans died at a football match.
A judicial inquiry led by Lord Justice Taylor, a member of the British Court of Appeal (the equivalent of South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal, where Justice Farlam ended his career), was appointed and began its inquiry exactly one month after the tragedy and then completed it in just 31 days.
Although its primary findings of fact were welcomed by the victims' families, it is now clear that Taylor's rush to judgment served to prevent the whole truth from coming out. Most importantly, the Taylor commission did not hear evidence on oath, increasing the scope for dishonesty and meaning that the evidence it heard could not be relied upon in other legal proceedings.
It was also selective in the evidence that it did hear, relying, fatally, on the police to decide what was most relevant when they had their own interests to protect. What the expert panel's report shows is that, immediately after the tragedy, police were already engaged in a massive cover-up, which they then sustained for 23 years, causing untold additional suffering for the victims' families. One can easily imagine the police here doing something similar.
The South African police's performance in the aftermath of Marikana does not inspire confidence. There is little indication that it has the wherewithal to accept responsibility for what took place or to learn quickly from its failings. One of the many things Farlam will need to establish is how exactly police personnel in the front line get their orders and from whom. These questions are relevant to the future as well as the past.
However justified one's concerns about Julius Malema's motives and his apparently inexhaustible appetite for fomenting further conflict, his own rights to freedom of movement and freedom of expression should not be denied. Besides, to do so only plays into his hands. On whose orders and on what legal basis was he denied access to the workers' meeting on Monday?
As one imagines Farlam is acutely aware, a heavy burden of responsibility sits on his and fellow commissioners' shoulders. A very great deal depends on this inquiry.
The role of the counsel for the commission cannot be underestimated. More than the presiding judge, it is the counsel who lead the evidence and cross-examine the witnesses who tend to determine the real depth and character of such an inquiry. In this, one can be encouraged by the fact that the commission has appointed such a strong trio of senior counsel: Geoff Budlender, Mbuyiseli Madlanga and Matthew Chaskalson.
Full public transparency in its procedures and in its evidence-taking will be an absolute necessity if the commission is to command the required public confidence.
In the absence of satisfactory leadership from the president and his government, it will be vital that no stone be left unturned. Only by asking the hardest questions and searching for the most profound answers will the inquiry be able to fill the current void.