22 October 2012

South Africa: Marikana Could Have Been Avoided - Police

An inquiry into the deaths of dozens of striking workers at a South African platinum mine has resumed in the city of Rustenburg. The investigation ... ( Resource: South Africa: Marikana Inquiry Opens

Rustenburg — The Marikana tragedy which led to the deaths of mineworkers, police officers, and security guards could have been prevented had all stakeholders played their roles effectively, the judicial commission of inquiry heard on Monday.

Presenting his opening statement on behalf of the South African Police Service (Saps), advocate Ishmael Semenya said evidence would prove that Lonmin, protesters, rival trade unions, and the mineral resources department could have avoided the August "bloodshed".

"At the outset we stated that the failure by other parties to play their roles cannot be justification for the loss of lives in Marikana.

"However, this failure cannot be ignored if we are to learn from this event and to ensure that they do not re-occur. This tragedy could have been averted had the parties involved played their proper roles," said Semenya.

There was evidence that Lonmin had previously struck a wage deal outside collective bargaining processes with workers in July 2012.

Later on, the company "steadfastly" refused to engage workers over another wage dispute in August.

"They (Lonmin) contended that the protest was illegal and they were not willing to negotiate outside bargaining processes. This inconsistent approach might have sent a wrong message to the workers," he said.

"The workers believed they could achieve much more following a violent protest. Lonmin caused this (problem)," said Semenya.

The company had not done enough, as stipulated in the mining charter, to provide adequate, proper accommodation for its employees. The mineral resources department was also fingered for failing to enforce implementation of the housing and living conditions standards developed in 2009.

"The apparent failure to monitor progress [on the implementation] could very well have contributed to the events which culminated in this tragedy," said Semenya.

He also submitted that prior to the bloodshed of August 16, violent clashes had been reported between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

"The question which arises is 'what role did the union leaders play to calm down the situation?'. We will argue that nothing or little was done by the leaders," he said.

Referring to the illegal gatherings which degenerated to the violent clashes, Semenya said evidence would prove that citizens' right to assemble freely, "could not be ascertained outside the perimeters of the law".

"The carrying of arms [by protesters], charging at police, the destruction of property, killing of police officers and security guards cannot be justified in a constitutional democracy.

"It will be argued that unions have a moral duty to instil discipline among their members," said Semenya.

Police opened fire while trying to disperse a group encamped on a hill in Nkaneng, killing 34 mineworkers and wounding 78 on August 16.

The workers had been carrying knobkerries, pangas, sticks, and iron rods.

Workers at the mine went on strike on August 10, demanding a monthly salary of R12,500. Within four days, 10 people had been killed, two of them policemen and two security guards.

Semenya said police evidence would show that some protesters had wanted a "bloodbath", and that police had set out to perform to the best of their abilities in a difficult situation.

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