Miners killed like ‘possessed vermin’, says lawyer



The miners killed at Lonmin’s Marikana mine on August 16 this year were considered to be "possessed vermin" who "had to be destroyed like vermin" by police and they "were killed like vermin", advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, acting for several families of the miners killed, told the Farlam commission of inquiry on Monday afternoon at the Rustenburg Civic Centre.

This was one of several afternoon broadsides fired against the police who had spent the morning using their opening remarks to advance a "necessity claim" to defend their actions on August 16, that left 34 people dead.

This assertion, claimed Ntsebeza, was "wholly inconsistent" with the testimonies collected from striking miners caught up in the police action and eventual massacre. Rather than doing everything possible to broker peace – as suggested by police legal counsel Ishmael Semenya earlier on Monday – the steps taken by police, said Ntsebeza, "not only made the deaths foreseeable, in the end, it made those deaths the most likely result".

"Little attempt" had been made to "engage, negotiate or consult" with miners in the lead-up to the massacre, said Ntebeza, whose remarks had followed another fullisade from Legal Resouce Centre's advocate George Bizos, who had called the police action on the day "acts of revenge".

This use of "lethal force is not sanctioned by our common law, by any legislation or by the Constitution", said Bizos.

Bizos said that, according to evidence given by the police to the commission, the police plan to deal with striking miners was a "model" that was "put together as to how you deal with a hostage situation" and not with the specifics of Lonmin.

This plan, which appeared to authorise the use of automatic rifles, was criticised by Bizos who felt the commission, chaired by retired supreme court judge Ian Farlam, was required to establish "who took the decision to adopt the plan that deployed armed police".

Bisoz asserted that the evidence suggested that it had been authorised with the knowledge of national police commissioner, General Riah Phiyega, and Police Minister Nathi Mthetwa.

Bizos also questioned the "proportionality" of the force used in response to the miners' alleged violent activity when "not a single policeman was injured". Was this down to "divine will" or "good luck", mused Bizos.

Ntsebeza was equally hard-hitting, saying that the police's suggestions of muthi was used to create the image of frenzied, "possessed vermin" that believed they were "invincible" and legitimised the use of live ammunition was "cynical".

Going through several of the deaths, Ntsebeza said that he would, in his submissions, raise the fact that autopsies show miners who died form wounds to their backs: “14 striking miners were shot from behind, many from behind or in the back of the head,” said Ntsebeza.

He described the actions and current evasion of culpability as "chilling".

Nor did Ntsebeza let Lonmin off the hook. He called the multi-national company's activities in negotiating with miners outside collective bargaining structures in June and its subsequent attempts to foist all the blame for the massacre on government as ranging "from the feckless to the imperious".

Lonmin, said Ntsebeza, was "remarkably self-serving" in opening negotiations with rock drill operators outside bargaining structures, and when more demands were made, turned around and said the miners had to go through proper collective bargaining channels.

Ntsebeza also highlighted a letter from Lonmin to Mining Minister Susan Shabangu, where the company called on government to "bring its might to bear" on the striking workers.

These words, said Ntsebeza, considering the subsequent deaths gave the call from Lonmin "an inflection as sinister as it is tragic".

Earlier, advocate Tim Bruinders, acting for the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, alleged that neither police nor Lonmin communicated an oral or written warning with actionable consequence, for the miners to evacuate the koppie on which they had gathered.

Bruinders also implied that there may have been some conspiring between Lonimn executives and the police in connection with a march on August 13 that left two policemen and two striking miners dead.

Bruinders said he had received testimony that after a contingent of miners had marched to the Lonmin offices on August 13, they had been told to return to the informal settlements around the mine through a "back route".

On this route, Bruinders said this group of miners where met be a group of police who opened fire on them, killing two people. In the ensuing skirmish, miners killed two policemen, said Bruinders. 

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Niren Tolsi
Niren Tolsi is a freelance journalist whose interests include social justice, citizen mobilisation and state violence, protest, the Constitution and Constitutional Court, football and Test cricket.

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