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Marikana mine-killings probe draws to close after 2 years

The Commission of Inquiry will hold its final session of hearings on Friday.

More than two years after 34 protesters were killed in the deadliest police action in South Africa since the end of apartheid, the state is completing its investigation.

The Commission of Inquiry into the August 2012 killings near Lonmin Plc’s Marikana mine, led by retired Supreme Court Judge Ian Farlam, will hold its final session of hearings today in the capital, Pretoria. Initially appointed by President Jacob Zuma in August 2012 with a five-month mandate, the committee now has until March 31 to present its findings.

The families of victims sat through months of evidence from witnesses ranging from Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa to Lonmin officials and mineworkers, including one employee referred to as Mr. X to protect his identity. The commission was tasked with investigating the police’s shooting on a crowd of striking workers at the mine, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, on Aug. 16, 2012, as well as the deaths of 10 people, including police officers, in the previous week.

“The families are hopeful that justice can be delivered through the commission,” Nomzamo Zondo, director of litigation at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, a non-profit group representing the families of the slain miners, said by phone yesterday. “Their biggest concern is whether the commission will recommend criminal prosecution of those who are implicated in the killings.”

‘Strong Recommendations’

Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega defended the action of officers at Marikana, saying they were trying to disperse and disarm the workers, some of whom were armed with machetes and pistols. Dali Mpofu, a lawyer for wounded and arrested miners, said Lonmin collaborated with police and should be held responsible for most of the deaths because the company refused to speak to the workers who were protesting over pay.

Barnard Mokwena, who was Lonmin’s executive president of human capital and external affairs at the time of the strike, told the commission the company couldn’t negotiate with the strikers because they had embarked on a stoppage that didn’t comply with labor laws, the Johannesburg-based South African Press Association reported on Sept. 15.

“I have no doubt that the commission will make a series of very strong recommendations on how the police have to deal with this type of situation so we never ever see something like this again,” Gary van Staden, an independent political analyst at NKC Independent Economists, said by phone from Johannesburg.

Ramaphosa was questioned at the commission in his capacity as non-executive director of Lonmin, a position he held before becoming deputy president in May.

Traditional Healers

He tried to persuade the government to address violence fueled by union rivalry at the mine prior to the police shootings, according to e-mails written to Lonmin executives that were submitted as evidence at the commission. He was heckled while giving evidence by protesters calling him a murderer and sell-out.

Witness Mr. X told the commission he was among protesting Marikana miners who underwent a ritual carried out by traditional healers, known as sangomas, that would protect them from bullets, SAPA reported on June 19.

“When people write about this, they will say this was 20 years into democracy, in many ways it took South Africa back to the dark days of apartheid and that was hopefully the last such incident,” Van Staden said.

©2014 Bloomberg News

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