Africa

South Africa shootings: Marikana mine inquiry begins

Protesters at the site of the Marikana shooting during the commission visit - Monday 1 October 2012
Image caption Some protesters gathered at the site of the shooting during the commission's visit

A judicial commission of inquiry into the killing of 44 people during a strike at the Marikana mine has opened.

The inquiry was set up by South African President Jacob Zuma.

The investigation will determine the roles played by the police, the management of the platinum mine, Lonmin, the unions and government.

Some 34 striking miners were shot in a day of bloodshed on 16 August. Ten others, including two policemen, died during weeks of unrest at the mine.

The killings on 16 August were the most deadly police action since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The commission, which consists of a three-member panel led by retired Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Ian Farlam, is expected to complete its analysis within four months. It must submit its final report within a month of finishing its investigation.

Video evidence

The proceedings are being held at the Rustenburg Civic Centre, near the scene of the shooting and 100km (60 miles) north-west of Johannesburg.

At the opening of the commission, the names of the dead were called out and a minute's silence held.

Judge Farlam said: "It is very important that the truth, in so far as what happened over that period, should become clear as soon as possible.

"We have to balance the need to deal with the matter with expedition, with the need to be thorough."

A short time into the proceedings, a lawyer representing families of dead miners asked for a postponement of at least 14 days. Dumisa Ntsebeza said this would give him time to consult his clients, who are scattered across a vast rural area.

He was supported by the lawyer representing most of the 270 miners arrested following the shootings, says the BBC's Milton Nkosi at the court. The counsel for the police made no objection.

But the commission rejected the request for a two-week adjournment, saying its work needed to be completed with speed.

After the morning's proceedings Judge Farlam travelled to the site of the killing, 30km from Rustenburg, where some protesters had gathered with signs saying: "Don't let the police get away with murder."

A total of 46 people died in the violent protests which took place during weeks of unrest at the platinum mine. However, only 44 deaths are being investigated as two deaths fall outside the scope of the inquiry.

The investigation will also examine the conduct of any individuals or groupings in promoting conflict and confrontation.

There are plans to set up giant screens in Marikana, close to the scene of the shootings, to allow relatives and friends to follow proceedings closely.

Video footage of the police shooting at the striking miners, which shocked the world, may be used as evidence during the hearings.

Late last month, striking miners at the Marikana mine agreed to return to work after accepting a pay rise of up to 22%.

But the strikes and unrest have spread to other mines in South Africa, one the world's biggest producers of precious metals.

On Friday, an official from the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) was seriously injured in a petrol bomb attack on his house in the mining town of Rustenburg.

The union said it believes the attack was carried out by a "hit squad" as part of a campaign of intimidation against its members in the platinum industry.

The NUM is locked into a formal alliance with the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

Correspondents say South Africa's unions are facing a crisis of credibility, with workers turning on their bosses - accusing them of being too close to capital, and government.

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