Justice for Marikana Miners
Last week on 21 March South Africans celebrated Human Rights Day. On this day the Sharpeville Massacre occurred in 1960 and it remains an integral part of South Africa’s history and an important moment to reflect on police brutality, excessive use of force and the first court appearance of police allegedly responsible for the deaths of miners at Marikana in August 2012, just 6 days before Human Rights Day 2018.
The murder of 69 people on 21 March 1960 has been called a turning point in the struggle against apartheid. Roughly 5000 people marched to Sharpeville Police Station in protest of the pass laws that obliged black people to carry pass books. Failure to present one’s pass book resulted in incarceration, thus thousands marched to the police station urging the police to arrest them as they had deliberately left their passes. The police opened fire and killing 69 people and injuring 180 others. Many were shot in the back as they fled.
The event sparked worldwide outrage against the apartheid government and encouraged further protest action. Years later, Nelson Mandela signed the Constitution in Sharpeville, marking the day that would be known as Human Rights Day.
Whilst the ills of apartheid are at the heart of the events that day in 1960, one cannot help but consider police brutality and abuse of power of in post-apartheid South Africa. The 2012 Marikana Massacre, widely regarded as the single most lethal use of force by police, since Sharpeville, is a quintessential display of excessive use of force by the police.
Lomin Mining Company workers, citing poor working conditions, bad pay and having exhausted all options, (including feeling abandoned by their trade union, the National Union of Mine Works (NUM)) organised strike action. By 12 August 2012 the country was watching chaos unfold. Police and mine workers eventually clashed and casualties ensued that month including the killing of 3 mine workers, the hacking to death of 2 police officers, and the burning alive of 2 security guards.
On 16 August, the situation took a turn for the worst as armed mine workers were shot and killed by police as they were trying to return to their homes. Some police accounts state that they opened fire because the miners were charging at them. Eye witness accounts include that the police allegedly shot at miners who had already surrendered and posed no threat. 34 miners were killed.
Like Sharpeville, some were shot in the back as they fled. One of the strike leaders, Mgcineni Noki ‘s body was riddled with 14 bullet holes including two shots to the head. It has been suggested that the police were urged to kill to take “revenge” for the earlier killing of two of their men. One police man present at the scene reported to the Mail and Guardian that “We were instructed to finish them off. I don’t know why, but it was a command, and we were trained to obey commands…”
On 15 March 2018, 6 days before Human Rights Day this year, former North West deputy police commissioner General Mpembe appeared in court facing four counts of murder for murders that occurred in Marikana on 13 August 2012, six counts of attempted murder, and defeating the ends of justice. 8 other officers have been charged with similar offences. The matter will continue in court on 8 June 2018.
6 years after the events at Marikana, it is unclear who, if anyone, will be charged for the deaths of the 34 miners on 16 August. Questions remain about why the police already had mortuary vans parked at the scene, but allegedly only allowed ambulances to enter one hour after the shooting ended? Questions remain about collusion between Lonmin Mine management, the police, NUM, and the members of government with a vested interest in Lonmin’s profits.
The miners and their families clearly deserve compensation and justice. In March 2017, police watchdog, Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) identified 72 police officers for prosecution and submitted their information to the National Prosecuting Authority in May 2017. Hopefully the appearance of nine police officers is just the beginning of a much-needed process of accountability.
Marikana is not the only example that displays police brutality, the IPID has reported an increase in other abuses of power by the police. From 2016-2017 there have been 302 deaths at the hands of poice,173 cases of torture, 112 cases of rape by police officers (35 of which were committed by officers on duty) and 3,827 cases of assault by police.
Whilst police officers have a very difficult job and face challenges that the ordinary civilian could not fathom- it is essential that they, as enforcers of the law, act within the bounds of the law. Post-apartheid South Africa cannot afford to have another Marikana.
**This article appeared in the Star Newspaper on 29 March 2018