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14 Aug 2015 11:26
Judge Ian Farlam at the Marikana commission. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)
One of the subjects of dispute at the
Marikana commission was the word “massacre”. Eventually, following repeated objections
from the police, the commission ruled that the word was not appropriate.
Judge Ian Farlam, the commission’s chairperson,
indicated that: “Whether it’s a massacre is a matter we’ll decide at
the end of the day.” Parties to the commission were obliged to use the more
neutral term “tragedy”, a term used to imply the absence of judgements about
In the end the commission did not address
How then should we characterise the police
actions on the afternoon of August 16 2012 that started with the 10 second
burst of gunfire from Tactical Response Team (TRT) members at what was to
become known as scene one?
Beyond the bare facts of the 34 striking
mineworkers who were killed and the detail about the events at scene one that
lead to the first 17 deaths, how should we understand Marikana? Above all what
actually happened at scene two, the location roughly 500 metres to the west of
scene one, where another 17 strikers were killed in a series of events that
started about 15 minutes after the scene one shooting?
question about the intentions of the strikers remains unanswered, the killings at
scene one are relatively well understood. The commission found that, whether or
not there was actually a threat against them, some of the police may have
reasonably believed that they were being attacked by the strikers.
As a result, the
commission says, there were some police who probably did not exceed the bounds
of self- and private defence against the (perceived) threat. Consequently it is
not appropriate to regard all of the roughly 50 (the report at one point says
47, at another 53) police who fired their weapons at scene one as having acted
the killings at scene one in relation to the individual actions and judgements
that were made is not adequate. Irrespective of whether some of the shooters
acted lawfully, the overall response was completely disproportionate.
Appearing as an expert witness for the South
African Human Rights Commission, Gary White, a former police officer from
Northern Ireland, said that that the decision to configure a line made up of
about 60 members armed with lethal weapons, “each of whom had discretion to
fire live ammunition whenever an imminent threat was perceived” represented “a
reckless attitude with regards to the potential for the use of lethal force”. In effect the
deployment of the line of police, most of them armed with high velocity R5
assault rifles, was itself a recipe for grossly excessive force to be used
against any threat, real or perceived.
Human slaughter machineAppearing on
behalf of the SAPS, the Dutch policing expert Cees de Rover conceded under
cross-examination that many of the police in the line were likely to have shot
purely because their colleagues were shooting. How many of them genuinely believed that they were under threat is
something that we are likely never to know. The TRT line at scene one was then a
mass human slaughter machine that was activated by the perception of one or
more of its members that they were, or might be, under attack.
important gaps in the evidence we are able to comment fairly authoritatively
about the events at scene one. In respect of scene two however the information is
far more fragmented.
factor in understanding the events at scene two must surely be the confrontation
that took place, three days prior, on the Monday afternoon. For reasons that
remain unclear the police fired teargas and stun grenades at a group of armed
miners who were returning to the koppie. Why the miners retaliated with lethal
violence is also not understood. In the confrontation that ensued two police
officers and three miners were killed.
One of the
consequences of this event was that the police dramatically increased their
numbers at Marikana. Perhaps more importantly, Monday afternoon’s bloody
confrontation would have been widely talked about amongst SAPS members sent to
‘Forward panic’The evidence strongly suggests that the killings at scene two took place
during what the American sociologist Randall Collins describes as a “forward
says Collins, are characteristic of many incidents of massacre and police
brutality. The build-up to scene two would have provided the perfect conditions
for a forward panic.
According to Collins forward
panics typically start “with tension and fear in a conflict situation” that is “prolonged and built up”. There is
likely to have been fear on both sides. The SAPS had not only killed three of
the strikers on the Monday but the large number of heavily armed police and
police vehicles amounted to a massive show of force.
But there were also many
strikers who were armed, and there would have been a strong element of fear
among many of the police, strongly shaped by the killings of their two
colleagues on the Monday. Related to this
fear, many SAPS members at Marikana are likely to have viewed the strikers with
a level of antagonism.
These emotions of fear and
antagonism would have been brought to a head during the period starting at
3.40pm, shortly before the killings at scene one, when the operation against the
miners was launched. Within the next 45 minutes the events at scene one and scene two would unfold.
What defines a forward panic
is that at the critical moment, when the dynamic of fear and tension has built
up, the one group quickly gets the upper hand over the other. As this happens
the built-up tension and fear comes out in an “emotional rush” and they get “carried away”.
At the critical point of the
(perceived) attack at scene one the police very quickly decimated the approaching
strikers through devastating firepower. From that point it was apparent that
the strikers presented no real danger to the police. Following the build-up of
tension when the operation commenced, the element of fear would have largely
dissipated as it became apparent to the police that the weapons that some of
the strikers had were no match for their own.
Many of the
police soon to be involved in the killings at scene two may not have directly
witnessed the scene one shootings but heard the gunfire and reports over the
police radio that police had been attacked. Whether they believed that police had been attacked or not, whilst they
waited for the water cannons to be repositioned, what they now faced were
groups of fleeing strikers.
The evidence leaders say that the group of
strikers killed in what has come to be called “the killing zone” at scene two
appear to have been “huddling together” apparently trying to shelter themselves
from the spray of a water cannon.
According to Randall Collins a
massacre resulting from a “forward panic” is carried out in an adrenaline
induced state that, as a result of the element of fear having disappeared, may manifest in various emotions including
fury or anger but also a “mood of elation”.
recording from Captain Ryland’s cellphone footage, the only piece of “real
time” evidence of the mood of police at scene two, support the idea that some of the killings at
scene two were carried out in mood of antagonism but also amusement. In the words
of the heads of argument of the families of the deceased miners “the SAPS
members who killed Mr Mpumza can be heard
celebrating and bragging about having killed him”.
The idea that the police got “carried away” is of course consistent with the large number killed at scene two
in the absence of any injuries on the police side. It is also supported by the
statement of both Warrant-Officer Mamabolo and Colonel Gaffley that SAPS
members continued to fire after they shouted at them to cease fire when there
was no sign that the strikers were shooting at them.
‘Shot for fun’The term “massacre” refers to a situation
where a number of people are killed indiscriminately or where those killed are
unresisting and are killed gratuitously.
to the heads of argument of the SAHRC, 40 strikers who were injured or arrested on August 16 allege that strikers at scene two were shot by police while surrendering or
injured. After they were released from police custody one of the arrested
miners told journalist Poloko Tau that “People were
shot for fun while down on their knees with their hands up in the air and
begging for their lives.”
it did not make any definitive findings about what happened at scene two the
Marikana Commission said that the SAPS “provided no details of what happened with
regard to the deaths of most of the deceased at Scene two”. Where the SAPS does “provide evidence pertaining to the deaths of some of the deceased” the
commission says, “their versions do not bear scrutiny when weighed up against
the objective evidence.”
The word tragedy
is often used by those who wish to deny police culpability for the 34 killings
that Thursday afternoon. But though there is undeniably a tragic element to
them, the interlinked but also quite distinct events at scenes one and two are both
gross acts of atrocity.
Read more from David Bruce
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