Don’t see Marikana miners as a faceless mob, inquiry told

After two years of studying every possible detail, from autopsy reports and police operational plans to the macro-issues surrounding the union environment, the Marikana commission must not lose sight of the human faces of those who died at Marikana on August 16 2012.

This was the plea from evidence leader Matthew Chaskalson SC to the Farlam Commission of Inquiry on Wednesday.

“Think of the miner who bled to death for an hour while the SAPS [South African Police Service] did nothing. Think of individuals. Every victim was an individual human being with a family.”

Chaskalson said it was easy for people to become “numb” to the human tragedy because it was human nature to try to “normalise” the events as a coping mechanism. This was part of the police’s strategy at the commission, said Chaskalson.

He said the commissioners should remember the effects of the two-year investigation “and our capacity to be numbed to events that are truly horrifying”.

“We’ve been looking at an horrific incident, at people shot to pieces by military rifles. Part of what our coping mechanisms do is they numb our outrage at what is truly unacceptable … It is never acceptable, in a constitutional democracy, for the police to fire blindly into a koppie. The SAPS have done an excellent job in trying to normalise this.

“Chair, you and your commissioners need to take yourselves back to the night of 16 August and remember when you first saw the Reuters footage. Remember when you saw miners being gunned down by the [police’s] Tactical Response Team. That’s the reality that’s at real risk of being diluted. One cannot stare at real horror for two years without trying to normalise it.”

“Don’t think of the miners as a faceless mob.”

He urged the commissioners to remember the miner shot through the head by an R5 bullet while walking home from the koppie; the miner who huddled in the “killing zone”, between two koppies, terrified, “while bullets ricocheted around him”.

“Remember the 10 victims who also sought refuge in the killing zone and were shot dead by SAPS members,” he said, when he read out the names of the dead miners.

More incompetent that malevolent
In a voluminous written submission to the commission, the evidence leaders detailed their recommendations to retired Judge Ian Farlam and his two co-commissioners on Wednesday.

In oral arguments on Wednesday, Chaskalson said the evidence leaders could find no evidence that the police had executed a plan on August 16 2012 to deliberately murder the miners gathered at the koppie. He said it was unlikely that the police had orchestrated a calculated plan that would end in a massacre.

But his reasons for this were, first, technical – that there was insufficient evidence to support the theory that the police planned to kill that day – and, second, practical – that the evidence leaders did not believe the police had the ability to “execute such a plan”.

“We do not believe the SAPS were up to it,” he said. “It would have required a level of efficiency that the police did not show at any point during that week.”

Mission failure
But that did not mean the police were absolved of culpability, Chaskalson said. On the contrary, the evidence leaders believed the police could have, and should have, prevented the massacre that ensued that day.

The police’s operational plan for August 16, according to the SAPS, was to prevent the striking miners from reaching the police line and the media, because they believed this would result in injuries. But instead of positioning their armoured vehicles to guide the miners away from this area, the vehicles took on a “bizarre, crescent” formation that instead guided the miners towards the Tactical Response Team police, who were armed with rifles.

Chaskalson said the evidence leaders had asked themselves if this was a deliberate plan, but there wasn’t enough evidence to support the conclusion.

Farlam added that, when considering if the police intended to kill, one had to ask whether they would have wanted to do so in front of the world’s media.

“Indeed,” Chaskalson agreed.

An incomplete plan
The critique of the police did not stop there. Chaskalson said the police’s plan, on paper at least, was likely to result in the miners fleeing to a third koppie. But the police had no plan as to what would happen once the miners arrived there.

He urged the commissioners to watch a video, already before the commission as evidence, which showed Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa addressing the miners at the koppie before the massacre.

“What we see and hear is the mood at the koppie change dramatically. There was none of the bravado previously present. What we hear is people singing a lament, and a lot of concerned faces.”

Around midday on August 16, Mathunjwa arrived at the koppie and attempted to negotiate with the miners. He first spoke to the police before taking a megaphone and asking the miners to disperse peacefully to avoid police action.

Within 15 minutes of his address, police began laying barbed wire to separate the miners from the nearby informal settlement. Some miners attempted to leave the koppie before the barbed wire could be completely rolled out. The shooting happened shortly afterwards.

Mathunjwa was the only union leader at the commission on Wednesday.

Final arguments continue on Thursday.

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Sarah Evans
Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics. 

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