30 July 2014

South Africa: Excessive Force Used at Marikana - Mpofu

Pretoria — The force used against protesting Marikana miners, leading to 34 deaths, was disproportionate, the Farlam Commission of Inquiry heard on Wednesday.

"If I call what happened on the 13th [August 2012] an overkill, then I don't know what I can call what happened on the 16th," Dali Mpofu, for wounded and arrested Marikana miners, told the inquiry's hearings in Pretoria.

"The avalanche of attacks that were meted out on the 16th to a group that could be monitored and was not posing any immediate danger was, to say the least, disproportionate and heinous."

Mpofu was cross-examining Lonmin security risk manager Dirk Botes.

The three-member commission chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam is probing the deaths of 44 people during the wage-related protests at Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana, near Rustenburg, North West.

On August 16, 2012, 34 people, mostly striking miners, were shot dead and 78 people were wounded when police fired on a group gathered at a hill near the mine. They were trying to disperse and disarm them.

In the week of August 13, 10 people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed in strike-related violence.

Botes said the inquiry should note that around 80 percent of people gathered at a hill near the mine had been forced to congregate by fellow miners.

"When barbed wire was rolled out, many people left the koppie (hill) on the western side. That showed that those people did not want to get involved," Botes, a former policeman, said.

"I cannot comment on the massacre, and who those people were. I cannot identify who was killed, whether they were with the militant group. I know that police had a plan to progressively disperse and disarm the group."

Mpofu said the police should have adopted a circumspect approach to avoid endangering the "innocent citizens" at the hill.

Botes said he believed the police intervention plan implemented at Marikana was a cautious one.

Mpofu said Lonmin should be held responsible for the people killed at its Marikana mining operations.

"We are going to argue that the Lonmin policy of refusing to speak to the workers was responsible for 41 of the 44 deaths. The toxic collusion between Lonmin and [the SA Police Service] was responsible for over 39 of the deaths," Mpofu said.

Botes said Lonmin security guards did their best to protect life and property, but the August 2012 strikers were different compared to previous protesters.

"I have told this commission that in previous marches the security always interacted with the protesters. The security always stopped in front of the groups and the strikers previously sent a representative," Botes said.

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