Phiyega mustn't be spared testimony by Marikana survivors and widows – lawyers

Suspended South African Police Service Commissioner, Riah Phiyega during the Claassen Commission of Inquiry. The board is investigating Phiyega’s fitness to hold office. (Thulani Mbele, Gallo)

Suspended South African Police Service Commissioner, Riah Phiyega during the Claassen Commission of Inquiry. The board is investigating Phiyega’s fitness to hold office. (Thulani Mbele, Gallo)

Survivors of the 2012 Marikana massacre and the families of those killed will not be reduced to silent witnesses in the Claassen Board of Inquiry, said lawyers acting for them.

The inquiry has “failed to adequately interrogate suspended police commissioner Riah Phiyega’s role in the massacre that resulted in the police gunning down 34 miners”, the lawyers said.

“Our clients have not been invited to the inquiry to present their evidence. As people who have been directly affected by Phiyega’s actions, they must be given a chance to be heard,” said Andries Nkome, who represents the injured and arrested mineworkers.

Nkome said there was not enough evidence presented at the inquiry with regard to Phiyega’s involvement in the Farlam Commission of Inquiry and the massacre. He has said the Claassen inquiry was conducted over too short a period of time, limiting the evidence that was presented.

The Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa (Seri), which represents the widows of the deceased mineworkers, has confirmed that it will make a submission to the Claassen inquiry with regards to Phiyega’s fitness to hold office.

Seri spokesperson Keamogetswe Thobakgale would not provide details regarding its submission but confirmed that the institute would make representations on Wednesday, when the Claassen inquiry resumes.

The Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) is also expected to make submissions on Wednesday.

“We are making an intervention on Wednesday.
We have an interest in the matter because we are part of the process,” said Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa.

The inquiry is expected to wrap up this week and closing arguments will be heard over the course of three days, starting on Wednesday.

President Jacob Zuma established the Claassen inquiry last year, after the Farlam commission recommended a board of inquiry into Phiyega’s fitness to hold office. The commission, which was established in the wake of the massacre, had found fault with the police’s “tactical” plan to deal with striking miners at Marikana.

Led by Judge Cornelis Claassen, the inquiry is to determine, among other things, whether Phiyega misled the Farlam commission by concealing the decision to implement a “tactical option” and if she should have foreseen the “tragic and catastrophic” consequences of her decision.

The inquiry began on a controversial note when evidence was presented that showed Phiyega had emailed lawyers representing the police, instructing them not to provide Judge Ian Farlam with the information he required for the commission’s police experts.

With an allocated budget of R22-million, the Claassen inquiry was expected to take place over five weeks. Instead, it was held over four days with just two witnesses taking the stand; the inquiry did not to cross-examine the police commissioner.

Pontsho Pilane

Pontsho Pilane

Pontsho Pilane was a health journalist at Bhekisisa, the Mail & Guardian's health journalism centre between 2016 and 2018. She debuted as a journalist at The Daily Vox, where she wrote primarily about gender, race and how they intersect. She was previously a general news reporter at the M&G. Pilane holds two degrees in media studies from Wits University. Read more from Pontsho Pilane

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