Marikana commission of inquiry revealed

As the Marikana Commission of Inquiry continues with its first phase of its mandate – which is to examine the events that took place at Marikana from August 9 to 16 during which 44 people died – and prepares to take a break until next year, Kwanele Sosibo responds to pertinent questions about the inquiry.   

Do people feel the commission will be unbiased and fair?
There were some grumblings from lawyers representing the injured and arrested miners that the state should subsidise their defence. This has not happened yet, with the Legal Aid Board stating that it could not do so. There are people who feel that this affects the commission negatively, as the involvement of some parties might not be sustainable. There was also an issue with funding for the attendance of families of the deceased miners, an issue that was initially brought up by Dumisa Ntsebeza, who is representing some of these families.

Who is the most efficient lawyer?
There are several lawyers who are developing reputations for how well they have performed, and others for being not so effective. Someone who has cross-examined effectively so far is Lonmin’s Schalk Burger, who has a commanding tone and asks very pertinent questions. He seemed to rattle Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) president Joseph Mathunjwa at several points during cross-examination. But he failed at getting Mathunjwa to admit that he perpetuated a false rumour by saying two people had died when police opened fire on the workers from the NUM office.

He was also able to sway the commission's chairperson, retired judge Ian Farlam, into believing that Amcu did use the crucial visits to the koppie to campaign for membership, although Farlam stressed that he was still listening to all sides of the argument. This shows he is persuasive and can argue well, even though Lonmin’s position is rather difficult to defend at this stage.

How long is the Marikana commission of inquiry slated to run for?
There are talks that it might continue until June or beyond, which I am inclined to believe because there have been only two witnesses so far, namely Anglican bishop Jo Seoka and Amcu leader Mathunjwa, who have given testimony. The police’s case has not begun as we have only sat through formal evidence. Workers have been asked to present themselves in front of the commission on January 21, when it resumes next year. Lonmin has yet to bring witnesses and neither have all the other parties, except for Amcu and the arrested and injured workers, in whose favour Seoka testified.

Who has given the most emotive testimony so far?
There have been several emotional moments so far, with mainly the screening of video footage depicting the deceased as they lay on the ground with gaping bullet wounds making some of the families present emotional. Seoka also had people at the commission murmuring several times after making statements that he did not trust the police, and that suggestions that the miners used umuthi were racist and condescending. He also moved many by recounting how a panicked worker had called him and told him that “police are killing us” as he drove out of Marikana after being prevented from going back to the koppie.

There were several emotional moments during Mathunjwa’s testimony too and he was at pains to describe how he had begged workers to leave the koppie but most wouldn’t. He caused strong reaction, especially in a moving monologue in which he stated that he did all that he could as a “mortal man”.

Is the commission widely attended by the public?
Much of the attendance has come from parties with a vested interest in the outcome, but attendance varies depending on the witness. Seoka and Mathunjwa have drawn the largest numbers, with the latter pulling a lot of National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) supporters, Amcu and NUM members, including NUM general secretary Frans Baleni. 

Have allegations of police harassment by witnesses attending the commission stopped?
Police arrested several people after they attended the Marikana commission on one occasion, all of whom were later released after demands from their lawyers. These people later claimed that they were tortured in custody, which is being investigated by the police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. There are other people who have been arrested in connection with the murder of a Lonmin NUM branch chairperson named Daluvuyo Bongo, but these were not prospective witnesses.

There were several complaints that the commission’s banners resembled apartheid South Africa’s flag. Has anything been done about this?
It seems like the commission took this heckling to heart, as the orange on top has been cropped out of the large banners, leaving a colour scheme that is predominantly white, blue and brown.

Who is likely to testify after Mathunjwa?
There has been talk that police might present more formal evidence afterwards, as there was talk that ballistic reports had been availed to the commission a few weeks ago, but there has been no confirmation of this. What is clear, however, is that some of the injured and arrested miners will testify after the commission resumes on January 21. The commission adjourns on December 20.

NOTE: The Marikana commission of inquiry will not be sitting from December 5 to 11 and December 21 to January 20 2013. The inquiry will resume on January 21 2013.

Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011.

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