Justice seems to be a long way off for dead miners in South Africa

A South African Polieman fires at protesting miners

JOHANNESBURG, Siyabulela Debedu – (IPS) – The South African Police Service members who were involved in a bloodbath with striking workers at the Marikana mine in North West Province could face murder charges, sources close to the investigation told IPS. The possible charges follows the death of 34 mineworkers after police opened fire on them using automatic rifles and pistols on Aug. 16.

According to procedure, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) was brought into investigate the police conduct. However, sources close to the investigation have revealed to IPS that because an autopsy report found that many of the victims were shot in the back while fleeing from the police, the police involved are expected to be charged with murder.

“We have gathered evidence showing that the miners were killed by police. We are going to complete the investigation and they will be charged,” the source told IPS.

“The report indicates that the majority of the miners were running away and they were shot at the back. At least two of the victims were shot and killed by one bullet. It was only a few, who had direct contact with the police, who have been shot from the front,” the source added.

About 3,000 miners, armed with pangas and spears, had been protesting and demanding a minimum wage of 1,495 dollars monthly outside the Lonmin-owned platinum mine when police attempted to break up the demonstration. The incident was the culmination of several days of violent strikes, which saw the death of 10 people, including two police officers.

It is unclear why the police fired, but police officials claimed that the strikers had rushed at them and they responded in self defense. It resulted in the country’s first ever massacre since the advent of democracy 18 years ago.

At the time, 270 mineworkers were arrested for public violence, illegal possession of dangerous weapons, illegal possession of firearms, murder and attempted murder.

But on Sep. 3 the state withdrew the charges against them and they will only appear in court in February 2013.

However, Shawn Hattingh, a researcher and education officer at the International Labour Research and Information Group, told IPS that even if the police are charged with murder, those in power who were responsible for giving the police permission to use live ammunition would most likely not be brought to justice.

“The whole thing was incredibly badly handled or incredibly ineffective, but I don’t think the state will answer for this. I don’t think there is an interest in the state to prosecute high up in the state. We’ve seen it before with politicians being charged and given light sentences or having had them dropped.”

He added that the priority in mining is to protect the mined resources from the mineworkers “and it was clear that violence would be used to protect it.”

“The police was there to protect the mine, our constitution is based on the protection of private property, so in general the state is going to react in the same way,” he said of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry set up by President Jacob Zuma to investigating the killings.

“There are people who aren’t going to answer for this. The Lonmin management won’t be charged with this. The guy who did the shooting will be charged, but he was following orders. There were orders to break the strike that day, the police commissioner made that clear,” Hattingh said.

He said what needed to be clarified was who gave the order to fire on the miners.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions’ spokesperson Patrick Craven told IPS that there were many unanswered questions that the Judicial Commission of Inquiry needed to address.

“Certainly the role of the police absolutely has to be central to this – we already know from the television footage that they played a role in this and this can’t be dodged. Again it seems from the coverage that these weren’t individual police officers loosing their heads and firing,” he said.

However, the IPID spokesman Moses Dlamini would not confirm the possible charges or the contents of the autopsy reports.

“Once the investigation is completed, the dockets will be forwarded to the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) for a decision on whether anyone should be prosecuted or not.

“If the decision of the DPP is to prosecute, the suspects will then be charged and be put on trial. Our investigation has not been completed and we have not even discussed the case with the DPP,” Dlamini said.

Meanwhile, Hattingh said that the massacre at the mine had been inevitable as there was a history of violent conflict between miners and owners in South Africa.

“The scale (of violence) at Lonmin is vastly bigger that what has happened in the past, but it is not that first time that workers have been killed … The whole history of mining is confrontational and harsh,” he said.

“If you look at what the security on the mines is like, it’s very strict. Communities are kept off their own land with barbwire, workers every day have to go through though security check, there are armed guards all over. You are watched over a lot of the time – it is a militarised environment,” he said.

He said that in South Africa the system of capital accumulation had been about oppressing all workers, especially black workers, and nothing much had changed.

“The ruling classes have changed in the mining industry but the stuff on the ground hasn’t changed … the lowest paid workers – the rock drillers who earn R4,000 (482 dollars) and work deep underground in the most dangerous of jobs – are still black,” he said.

Meanwhile, the miners have vowed to continue to fight for a minimum wage of 1,495 dollars from Lonmin mine owners.

Lungisile Lutsheto was among the miners arrested. He told IPS of his alleged abuse by police while in custody.

“It was bad in the cells. The police special units came to our cells and started to assault us for no reason. Initially, they searched us saying they were looking for cellphones in our possession. When they could not find any, the beating continued repeatedly,” Lutsheto said.

Already 150 statements have been made and cases opened against the police by miners who claimed to have been assaulted while in custody.

*Additional reporting by Nalisha Adams

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