Riah Phiyega was two months into her job as national commissioner when police killed 34 striking miners in the North West town of Marikana on 16 August 2012.
“President Jacob Zuma has in terms of Sections 9(1) of the South Africa Police Service Act, 1995, established a Board of Inquiry into the allegations of misconduct by the National Commissioner of the South African Police Service, and/or her capacity to execute official duties efficiently,” the Presidency said in a statement.
Judge Cornelis Claasen would chair the three person board. He would be assisted by advocates Bernard Khuzwayo and Anusha Rawjee.
The Presidency said Zuma had provided Phiyega with the board’s terms of reference, and given her until September 28 to explain “why she should not be suspended pending the final determination of her fitness to hold office”.
Phiyega’s actions on August 16 2012, when 34 miners were killed during a violent strike at the Lonmin mines in the North West in what’s believed to to be the biggest loss of life in a single police operation in post-apartheid South Africa, was heavily criticised by the Farlam commission of inquiry.
In June, Zuma released the report of the Farlam Commission. It recommended a board of inquiry into Phiyega’s fitness to hold office after finding fault with the police’s “tactical” plan to deal with the striking miners.
The Commission also found the police had misled the commission about its plans on the day of the killings.
The terms of reference of the board of inquiry, Zuma’s office said would include investigating whether Phiyega, acting with others in the SA Police Service leadership structures, “misled the Commission” by hiding the fact that they had authorised the “tactical option” during a management meeting on the day before the killings.
The board of inquiry would also investigate whether Phiyega, while taking the decision to go the tactical route, could have foreseen the “tragic and catastrophic consequences which ensued”.
The President also wants the inquiry to establish whether a report prepared for Zuma, and a media statement issued on August 17, was “deliberately amended” to hide the fact that there were two shooting incidents, “resulting in misleading the public that all the deaths had occurred at Scene 1 which arose out of members of SAPS having to defend themselves from an advancing mass”.
Phiyega’s testimony before the Farlam Commission would also come under scrutiny as the board would look into whether the evidence she presented during the inquiry “was in keeping with the office which she holds and the discharge of her duties commensurate therewith”.
Reaction from opposition
The country’s two biggest opposition parties, the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters, welcomed the announcement but questioned why Phiyega alone was being held accountable for the Marikana massacre on August 16.
“The EFF welcomes President Jacob Zuma’s overdue decision to constitute a board of inquiry on National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega’s fitness to hold office following her role in the brutal massacre of mineworkers in Marikana,” said EFF spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.
However, Ndlozi said the party was concerned that Zuma extended the deadline by which Phiyega should explain to the President why she should not be suspended pending the outcome of the board of inquiry.
“This is disheartening and seems like a merry-go-round,” he said.
Ndlozi added that the EFF hoped Phiyega would not serve as the “scapegoat” while politicians allegedly involved were left untouched, leading to a “half-baked solution”.
“Phiyega must not be made into the post-apartheid Eugene De Kock who was the sacrificial lamb that was hanged for all apartheid sins,” he said.
The EFF repeated its calls to Zuma to hold deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and then-police minister Nathi Mthethwa accountable for the “causal effect on the ultimate decision to plan the mass killings of workers in Marikana”.
“It cannot be that politicians who participate in crimes against humanity are left to flourish, rewarded with Cabinet posts, while those who report to them take the blame and fall,” said Ndlozi.
The DA, largely echoing the sentiments of the EFF, welcomed the establishment of the board of inquiry into the “embattled” Phiyega and her capacity to hold office.
“This is one step closer to attaining justice for the victims and families of those who were brutally massacred by a [South African Police Service] acting with lethal force on that fateful day,” said DA MP Dianne Kohler-Barnard.
“Phiyega, who bares ultimate responsibility for SAPS operations, must be disciplined and ultimately fired.”
Kohler-Barnard also criticised Zuma’s decision to give Phiyega more time to provide him with submissions on why she should not be suspended.
“She should be suspended immediately so she does not use her powerful position to tamper with the inquiry,” she said, “That she isn’t suspended already is inexplicable.”
The DA also called on Zuma to hold politicians like Mthethwa and former mineral resources minister Susuan Shabangu accountable, but made no mention of Ramaphosa.
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa also weighed in on twitter, saying: “Zuma appoints board of inquiry into Phiyega… How about her former Minister?”. – ANA