S. Africa opens probe into deadly mine violence
- Published: 1/10/2012 at 05:49 PM
- Online news:
South Africa opened an inquiry Monday into the police killing of 34 miners and related violence that took place in August, vowing to uncover how a row over pay ended in the country's worst bloodbath since the end of apartheid.
Police officers close to protesting miners near a platinum mine in Marikana on August 16. South Africa opened an inquiry on Monday into the police killing of at least 34 miners during the day of violence in August, hoping to find out how a dispute over pay ended in a bloodbath.
The Marikana Commission of Inquiry, appointed by President Jacob Zuma, began what is expected to be four months of deliberations at Rustenburg Civic Centre, a short distance from the mine where police gunned down striking platinum miners on August 16.
Sitting before a jet-black backdrop, former Supreme Court of Appeal judge Ian Farlam solemnly gavelled in the proceedings, which began with a roll call of the dead, a minute's silence and a vow that the truth would be revealed.
"Our country weeps at this tragedy and we owe it to those concerned that we do our work as expeditiously as possible," Farlam said.
The commission has been asked to "investigate matters of public, national and international concern arising out of the tragic incidents at the Lonmin Mine in Marikana."
In the coming weeks the South African police and government, miners and unions and British-headquartered mine owner Lonmin face tough questions about their conduct during the unrest, which began with miners striking for better pay on August 10.
In the following days and weeks of violence a total of 46 people were killed, including two police officers, and more than 70 were injured.
But it was graphic footage of the events on August 16 that shocked the world and drew parallels with the brutality seen under white apartheid rule before 1994.
Video footage showed miners, some armed with machetes and spears, advancing through scrubland toward a bank of heavily armed police, who opened up a barrage of fire that clouded the area with dust.
When the dust cleared, the bloodied bodies of scores of miners could be seen, some wounded and desperately labouring to take their last breaths.
No police have been charged in relation to the murders, but around 270 protesters and miners were arrested under a colonial and apartheid-era "common purpose" doctrine. The murder charges were later dropped and separate charges against the group were delayed.
Farlam expressed hope that the three-person commission could help the "healing process."
Testimony before the inquiry is expected to get under way in earnest on Wednesday.
But there were calls for a delay Monday, amid claims that the families of the victims -- some of whom come from remote rural areas a long distance from the mine -- are not adequately represented.
There are "some families who had not been advised there was a Commission of Inquiry into the deaths of their loved ones," said Dumisa Ntsebeza, a former commissioner on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, who is representing victims' families.
"The families must be assisted by the state to be properly represented here. They've got a right to be present."
Representatives asked for a 14-day adjournment of proceedings to allow families to travel to Rustenburg, which lies two hours' drive northwest of Johannesburg.
That request was denied.
Court proceedings ended around lunchtime Monday, when 100 commission officials and counsellors decamped to Marikana, visiting the site of the shooting.
Aside from the patch of scrub where some of the killings were filmed, delegates, flanked by two dozen police officers, also visited a hillock nearby where it is thought 14 of the 34 miners were shot.
Around 60 protesters from the Marikana Support Campaign, a community support group started after the shootings, sang and danced between the mine shaft and the hill where some of the workers were shot dead.
Many had posters with the wording "Don't let the police get away with murder".
The group's founder, Lonmin employee Siphiwe Batha, said they did not support the inquiry. "We protest because the commission was developed by Jacob Zuma. We feel this commission won't reveal the truth," Batha said.
The panel is to send interim reports to President Zuma once a month. The first report, about events leading up to August 16, is due by October 12.
About the author
- Writer: AFP
Position: News agency