Rustenburg — Fourteen of the 34 Lonmin platinum miners killed by the police in August were shot in the back, a judicial inquiry into the Marikana shooting heard on Monday.
"All fatal projectile wounds were sustained from the back," advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza told the Farlam commission at the Rustenburg Civic Centre, North West.
"Those who were killed were unlawfully killed by SAPS [the SA Police Service]," he said in his opening remarks.
On August 16 the police opened fire while trying to disperse a group of striking mineworkers encamped on a hill in Nkaneng, killing 34 and wounding 78.
The workers had been carrying knobkerries, pangas, sticks, and iron rods.
The miners 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 of them security guards.
Ntsebeza represents the Eastern Cape families of 20 of the men who died.
The family members, many of the women wearing black and blue mourning clothes, sat in the first two front rows of the auditorium at the hearing.
Ntsebeza said the police had claimed the mineworkers charged at officers because they had taken muti (traditional medicine) which made them feel invincible. This was the police's justification for killing them.
"For us, the subtext of this justification... is that the miners, according to them [police], acted like possessed men, that they had to be destroyed like vermin and that they were destroyed like vermin," he said.
"Whatever the truth of that tragic day, it cannot be that the SAPS could not have acted differently. [They] could and should have brought the gathering to an end peacefully and without loss of life," Ntsebeza said.
He said his team would contend that every step the police took leading up to August 16, and on the day itself, made the workers' deaths foreseeable and inevitable.
Ntsebeza agreed it was the police's job to disarm people and disperse gatherings, and that the way they had done so in Marikana was not legitimate.
"The manner and timing... invited injury and death as well."
He said the police's decision to send National Union of Mineworkers and Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union officials to discuss the striking workers' demands was not the correct one.
"SAPS officers on the scene must have known workers were not under the control of the unions... This was a public order issue, not a labour issue," said Ntsebeza.
It appeared the police had not given the mineworkers an official order to disperse, but rather an ultimatum, and had encircled and entrapped the protesters with barbed wire.
"Blocking the miners' dispersal route to Nkaneng informal settlement...
[they] had no choice but to move in numbers towards police with nowhere else to go," he said.
"Some of these miners were shot in the back and the back of the head while trying to get away."
Ntsebeza said the police's response to the protest was aggressive, misguided, disproportionate, unreasonable, and unlawful.