Retired judge Ian Farlam, chairperson of the commission of inquiry into the events surrounding the shooting at Marikana in the North West, has denied a request to postpone the start of the commission. The request was made shortly after proceedings began in Rustenburg on Monday morning.
The request was first made by Dumisa Ntsebenza, an attorney for the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri) that is representing 23 families of the deceased and the Association of Mineworkers and Constructtion Union. He told the commission: "I'm reluctant to make the application because I don't want to incur your ire."
Farlam said he would be as patient as he could, and Ntsebenza requested that proceedings be postponed for two weeks.
The request was seconded by attorney Dali Mpofu, who is acting on behalf of 270 miners arrested and charged with murder and attempted murder in the aftermath of the violence.
"Consulting with 270 people can take quite a long time … if there is extra time it would be welcomed on our part," he said
The South African Police Service (SAPS) said it would not be opposed to the idea of a postponement.
Advocate Isaac Semenya, acting for SAPS, said: "We would not oppose the application. We would benefit from some measure of time."
George Bizos, acting for the Legal Resources Centre – which represents the families of some of the men who died at Marikana and the Benchmarks Foundation, an NGO which lobbies for better conditions for mine workers – opposed the application.
Bizos said a postponement, even of 10 days, would impede the functioning of the commission and waste money.
Borrowing from sports terminology, Bisoz said: "None of us should seek to kick for touch. We must get on with this job that has been assigned to the commission."
Cassie Badenhorst, acting for the minerals department, also opposed the application, saying there should be no reason why formal evidence should not be led. Badenhorst suggested the parties work out a "systematic programme to work as expeditiously as possible".
"The world is already watching what is going on in this very room. Let's get on with it," he said.
Shortly before discussions on a possible postponement concluded, the SAPS counsel told the commission that ballistics information, requested by some of the parties, would only be available at the end of October.
Semenya said only one individual had been assigned to deal with ballistics and called on the commission to help expedite the matter.
Farlam immediately appealed that those concerned to "treat the matter as one of extreme urgency to make the information available as soon as possible".
Lawyers asked that the commission take steps to involve victims and their families in proceedings.
Ntsebenza told the commission that Seri knew of some of the families that, as of Sunday night, were still not aware that an inquiry was underway and had no legal representation.
He submitted that the families of those killed were not being adequately represented and requested that the state and Lonmin – which he said had "deep pockets" – assist them to get involved.
"Of all the parties who are represented here, if any one party would be worthy of being assisted by the state, at taxpayers' expense, they are the parties that have got to be assisted," he said.
The request seemed fitting, given that the Rustenburg Civic Centre, where the commission is taking place, was largely empty on Monday. State officials, lawyers and members of the media occupied most of the seats in the venue. Few people from the surrounding communities appeared to be in attendance and the seats reserved for families were empty.
This request for material assistance was seconded by Mpofu. He asked that the commission "do whatever is in its power, to influence the powers that be [to ensure] that although the poor people we represent should not be disadvantaged merely because of their economic station in life".
Mpofu asked for clarity on whether a R25-million budget announced by the justice department for logistics was reserved only for state parties or whether it could also be used to assist the victims.
He said the search for the truth of what happened at Marikana could not happen in a "skewed situation" where some parties have access to tens of millions of rands and the rest of the parties "have to be scraping around and giving each other lifts just to get here".
But Farlam said the social development department was making arrangements for the families to attend the proceedings in Rustenburg.
He suggested the in loco inspection planned for Monday and Tuesday continue as planned. The commission will go to the two koppies near Wonderkop where most of the deaths occurred, scenes where police and civilians were killed during the period, mine shafts and communities in the area.
The commission intends to view video evidence of the events on August 16 on Wednesday, before the parties begin to lead evidence.
Farlam made a special appeal to the media to share unedited video material concerning the shooting and events that happened prior.
"We understand that the television material that has been made available to the evidence leaders, which was previously in possession of the [Independent Police Investigative Directorate] and the police, is edited material. We ask for the cooperation of the media to make all of the evidence they've got available," he said.
Farlam asked counsel for the parties to "apply their minds to what can be done to shorten proceedings", by way of summaries or by having some witnesses merely confirming a statement that had been given in advance.
At the start of the day's proceedings Farlam, said the commission was committed to the values of truth, restoration and justice and would not be swayed by outside influences.
"We will only act in terms of our consciences and of what the evidence leads us to believe," he said.
"Our country weeps for this loss of life and we owe it to everybody to act expeditiously."
The commission has been adjourned and will reconvene for an in loco inspection at Marikana at 2.30pm.