What Have We Learned from the Farlam Commission? | Amandla! Correspondent

by Oct 15, 2014Magazine

The proceedings of the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the killings at Marikana have been widely criticised for their many shortcomings, but a number of important points of evidence have emerged in key thematic areas.

What follows is a brief overview of the most important points, along with the key shortcomings of the commission. Most, if not all of these have been reported at one point or another during the proceedings, nevertheless, it is worth considering them together as a body of emerging findings.

Marikana was after all the most important political event in South Africa since the end of apartheid.

Key points of evidence by theme

Lonmin’s relationship between with the police

Lonmin has admitted that part of its security strategy was to actively involve itself in policing of Marikana. Prior to any violence, Lonmin had made contact with high-level police and politicians in an effort to encourage them to intervene in the labour dispute.

Lonmin’s relationship with the mineworkers

Lonmin violated its own policy on unprotected strikes. Lonmin’s policy states that it must negotiate with worker leaders. At Marikana, Lonmin misled the mineworkers into believing it was negotiating, but then unilaterally decided on an allowance for rock drill operators (RDOs). Workers rejected the imposed allowance and subsequently marched to Lonmin’s management offices. This was the beginning of the strike.

Lonmin called in police to deal with a labour issue. Instead of negotiating with their workers, Lonmin pressured the police to end the strike.

Political interference; collusion between the state and business

A transcript of a meeting on 14 August 2012 between Lonmin and the police shows political interference during the strike, which affected how the police and Lonmin approached it. The police were concerned to end the strike quickly, so as to prevent debates on nationalisation from occurring, as well as to avoid opportunities that “political” figures like Malema might exploit in Marikana. It was admitted that the minister of police was under pressure from Lonmin shareholder, Cyril Ramaphosa; the police made it clear they could not assist Lonmin if they were sympathetic to AMCU.

Lonmin executives wrote to Ramaphosa that they were concerned over the characterisation of the strike by then-minister of mineral resources, Susan Shabangu, as a labour dispute rather than as a criminal issue. Ramaphosa intervened to tell Shabangu that her characterisation of the strike was “not good” either for her or for the government. The police cannot be called in to end a strike if it is characterised as a labour dispute, and not a criminal matter.

The use of arms by Lonmin and the police

The police commanders at Marikana consciously opted to use R5s and other dangerous equipment as opposed to less dangerous “Public Order Policing” equipment.

On the use of arms at Marikana, it has emerged that on each of the six occasions when arms were used between August 10th and August 16th, the first shots were fired at the striking mineworkers by another party – Lonmin security, NUM members, or the police. In no case did the striking miners fire first.

It was admitted by the senior ,commander, William Mpembe that the five deaths that occurred on August 13th –two policemen and three strikers – could have been avoided if he had not given the order to fire stun grenades and rubber bullets at a crowd of strikers who were walking away.

On the fateful day of August 16th, the police tried to trap 3,000 workers on the koppie using barbed wire and water cannons. They then fired rubber bullets, followed by live ammunition at workers trying to escape.

Lack of independence of the police

The police were dependent on intelligence from Lonmin during the strike. Lonmin picked and chose what intelligence it gave to the police. For example, on 13th August striking workers went to K4 shaft to see if anyone was working there. On arrival, workers were told by Lonmin security that the shaft was closed, and requested the workers to return to the koppie using the route along the railway. Lonmin did not tell that to the police, but simply told them that there was a group of armed strikers by the railway line – who the police then ambushed.

Police set up a Joint Operations Centre (JOC) from which they ran and planned their operations during the strike. Lonmin was actively part of the JOC. The police did not have adequate equipment at Marikana; Lonmin provided meals, toilets, office resources and a helicopter to the police.

Inappropriate deployment of police resources

The restructuring of the police in 2006 resulted in the decentralisation of public order policing units. As a result, specialised units such as the Special Task Force (STF) and Tactical Response Teams (TRT) are increasingly called to address public order events such as the strike at Marikana.

In their efforts to end the strike, the police deployed a hostage negotiator to end what was in fact a labour dispute.

The role of trade unions

NUM also characterised the strike as “criminal”. On August 13th, NUM itself called for the TRT to be deployed to Marikana.

The decision to end the strike on August 16th

The Provincial Commissioner announced in a media interview that August 16th was “D-Day”. Early on the morning of August 16th, four mortuary vans were ordered to Marikana. Four thousand rounds of live ammunition were also delivered to the scene.

Efforts by AMCU’s president Joseph Mathunjwa and Bishop Seoka to intervene and negotiate between workers and Lonmin were obstructed by Lonmin and the police.

The killings at scene 1 took place at approximately 15:53, and the killings at scene 2 at approximately 16:10. Any officer who heard the killings at scene 1 could and should have stopped the killings at scene 2. However, the police officers who appeared before the commission all deny knowledge of the killings at scene 1.

North West Provincial Commissioner Mbombo was in the bathroom and not at the JOC. Despite being in the vicinity, Brigadier Calitz claimed not to know of events at scene 1. General Naidoo was “lost”. General Annandale, the chief of staff claims not to have heard about scene 1 until 16:30. Evidence from telephone calls and Lonmin executive’s testimony shows that police commanders knew what happened, and could have stopped the killings at scene 2.

Police brutality

As noted above, police on August 13th fired stun grenades, tear gas and rubber bullets into a non-threatening crowd who were walking away in an orderly fashion. [Footage of this, captured by Lonmin security cameras, can be seen in the documentary film, Miners Shot Down.]

On August 16th, Phumzile Sokanyile was killed by a single bullet to the back of his head, 800m away from the scene of the other killings and across a river bank.

Medics on the scene at the site of the first killings were only allowed to attend to the injured an hour after the shootings. One of the miners who had been shot, Bongani Mdze, bled to death as a result of not receiving timely medical attention.

Of the seventeen people killed at scene 2, many were shot in their elbows or hands as they attempted to surrender.

Police mocked, boasted, and laughed over the killing of Thobile Mpumza, who was found with at least 12 bullet wounds in his body.

Police charged 270 mineworkers for the death of their comrades under the doctrine of common purpose. These charges were eventually dropped on August 20th after widespread public outcry.

Many workers have alleged they were beaten while in custody and made to stay in filthy, brutal conditions.

All of those shot died without medical assistance or relief.

Problems plaguing the commission

Falsification, tampering and “loss” of evidence by the police and Lonmin

SAPS planted weapons next to dead bodies and took a series of photographs with the planted weapons.

Lonmin removed entries from the log book that it provided to the commission that showed its security fired at mineworkers.

National Commissioner Riah Phiyega expressly told the commission that Marikana was never discussed at a national management forum meeting of high-ranking police officials on the eve of August 15th. This has been proven to be untrue; Marikana was discussed in detail. The minutes of that meeting have been “lost”.

Police initially presented a document called Exhibit L to the commission as a contemporaneous document used at Marikana. This was proven inaccurate. SAPS then claimed it was re-engineered after the event. The credibility of the document’s contents was smashed at the commission.

The police tampered with video evidence given to the commission.

The commission did not receive video evidence from news stations.

Lack of discovery from the parties and delayed discovery has hampered the commission’s progress.

The deletion of paragraph 1.5

Paragraph 1.5 of the commission’s original terms of reference called for an inquiry into “the role played by the department of mineral resources or other government department or agency in relation to the incident and whether this was appropriate in the circumstances and consistent with their duties and obligations according to law”.

The removal of this paragraph by President Zuma in May 2014 raises serious questions about the ability of the commission to make full findings against the government and government departments, and effectively eliminates the possibility the commission will consider the broader socioeconomic and policy-related factors leading up to the fateful events of August 2012.

Time frame of the commission

The target end-date of 30 September 2014 makes it all but impossible for the commission to fully examine a number of important witnesses. SAPS witnesses dominated the commission for over a year. Lonmin witnesses will have been squeezed into three weeks.

Lack of the possibility for restorative justice

By taking an essentially adversarial approach, the commission has not allowed for restorative justice approaches to be brought to bear.

It was only after nearly two years of commission proceedings that families of the victims were given a chance to speak and have their stories heard before the commission, which started in their absence.

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