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NUM: Lethal force ahead of Marikana shootings was justified

This was revealed by advocate Karel Tip, who heads the team representing the union during the Marikana commission of inquiry which resumed on Monday, following its adjournment on October 3 to allow time for family members of the deceased to attend the hearings.

The August 11 shooting represented the first bloody incident in the protracted unprotected strike that eventually saw 10 people killed, including two security guards and two policemen before August 16. Workers interviewed by the Mail & Guardian have often stated that it was these shootings that led to them taking up arms, mostly in the form of pangas, knobkerries and spears.

Tip said the union will also testify that it was Lonmin management's decision to engage rock drill operators in a wage demand that contributed to the strike, and that it tried to persuade workers to go back to work.

Lonmin, represented by Schalk Burger, is expected to agree that it engaged workers, but will provide more details about how that deal was struck. Addressing the commission, Burger said Lonmin had limited first hand knowledge of the events that transpired on the koppies, as that area was under SAPS control in the days leading up to the massacre, but they can elaborate on why police presence was intensified.

Representing the South African Police Service, advocate Ishmael Semenya said the police had often exerted their diplomatic skills in a manner which exceeded that of the other parties involved. He portrayed the police force as peacekeepers in the August 16 shootings who only used deadly fire when being charged by armed miners. He added that the SAPS will testify that some of the killings in the other koppies occurred as the police responded to gunfire they did not realise was friendly fire.

Semenya revealed that the police would not be able to give full details of the killings that took place in the other koppies following the initial blast of gunfire as the police had not finalised the ballistic reports.

The commission continues until Tuesday.

'Tragedy could have been averted'
Semenya also said evidence would prove that Lonmin, protesters, rival trade unions, and the mineral resources department could have avoided the August "bloodshed".

"At the outset we stated that the failure by other parties to play their roles cannot be justification for the loss of lives in Marikana.

"However, this failure cannot be ignored if we are to learn from this event and to ensure that they do not re-occur. This tragedy could have been averted had the parties involved played their proper roles," said Semenya.

There was evidence that Lonmin had previously struck a wage deal outside collective bargaining processes with workers in July 2012.

Later on, the company "steadfastly" refused to engage workers over another wage dispute in August.

"They [Lonmin] contended that the protest was illegal and they were not willing to negotiate outside bargaining processes. This inconsistent approach might have sent a wrong message to the workers," he said.

"The workers believed they could achieve much more following a violent protest. Lonmin caused this (problem)," said Semenya.

The company had not done enough, as stipulated in the mining charter, to provide adequate, proper accommodation for its employees. The mineral resources department was also fingered for failing to enforce implementation of the housing and living conditions standards developed in 2009.

"The apparent failure to monitor progress [on the implementation] could very well have contributed to the events which culminated in this tragedy," said Semenya.

He also submitted that prior to the bloodshed of August 16, violent clashes had been reported between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

"The question which arises is 'what role did the union leaders play to calm down the situation?'. We will argue that nothing or little was done by the leaders," he said.

Referring to the illegal gatherings which degenerated to the violent clashes, Semenya said evidence would prove that citizens' right to assemble freely, "could not be ascertained outside the perimeters of the law".

"The carrying of arms [by protesters], charging at police, the destruction of property, killing of police officers and security guards cannot be justified in a constitutional democracy.

"It will be argued that unions have a moral duty to instil discipline among their members," said Semenya.

Police opened fire while trying to disperse a group encamped on a hill in Nkaneng, killing 34 mineworkers and wounding 78 on August 16.

The workers had been carrying knobkerries, pangas, sticks, and iron rods.

Workers at the mine went on strike on August 10, demanding a monthly salary of R12,500. Within four days, 10 people had been killed, two of them policemen and two security guards.

Semenya said police evidence would show that some protesters had wanted a "bloodbath", and that police had set out to perform to the best of their abilities in a difficult situation.

Additional reporting by Sapa.

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.

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