Zuma must act on Marikana

CityPress - - Voices - Janet Heard Heard is par­lia­men­tary editor of Me­dia24 news­pa­pers

Even if you have no hid­den agenda, it is quite a feat to ac­cu­rately and com­pre­hen­sively sum­marise an in­tri­cate re­port of a com­mis­sion of in­quiry that ex­tended over a few years.

It is per­haps no sur­prise that more than a month af­ter Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma read out his sum­marised ver­sion of the 646-page Far­lam re­port on the Marikana mas­sacre, new rev­e­la­tions con­tinue to emerge.

But had re­tired Judge Ian Far­lam been man­dated to de­liver the find­ings him­self, as would be the case in a court judg­ment, we may have got off to a slightly less con­tested start. Gaps and mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions have arisen from Pres­i­dent Zuma’s sum­ma­tion, thus ag­gra­vat­ing un­der­stand­able anger over the fact that the ex­ec­u­tive had been let off the hook.

One of the cru­cial gems buried in the fine print is the com­mis­sion’s find­ing that the “McCann prin­ci­ple” is part of our law, de­spite the SA Po­lice Ser­vice’s con­tention that it is not.

The McCann prin­ci­ple, ac­cord­ing to the com­mis­sion, “re­quires the plan­ners of polic­ing oper­a­tions, where force may pos­si­bly be used, to plan and com­mand the oper­a­tions in such a way as to min­imise the risk that lethal force will be used”.

It is this crit­i­cal prin­ci­ple that the com­mis­sion found had “been breached” due to the “de­fec­tive na­ture” of the plan that was car­ried out, which led to the deaths of 34 mine work­ers on Au­gust 16 three years ago. This plan was pre­pared “in haste” with­out the ben­e­fit of in­put from the public or­der po­lice unit. It was not ap­proved by the full joint op­er­a­tional com­mit­tee and not sub­jected to a chal­lenge process.

“It car­ried with it a sub­stan­tially height­ened risk of blood­shed,” the com­mis­sion found.

The up­shot of this find­ing, ac­cord­ing to Ac­count­abil­ity Now di­rec­tor Paul Hoff­man, who shone a light on its sig­nif­i­cance and other fun­da­men­tal as­pects in an ar­ti­cle last week, is that a breach of the McCann prin­ci­ple is a suf­fi­cient ba­sis for civil li­a­bil­ity. In ef­fect, the state would have no valid de­fence “to the mer­its of claims for dam­ages aris­ing out of the killing or in­jur­ing of min­ers in Marikana”.

Hoff­man ad­vises the state to ac­cept civil li­a­bil­ity and ten­der rea­son­able dam­ages to vic­tims with­out de­lay.

If not, we will be faced with pro­tracted and costly le­gal bat­tles, and un­ac­cept­able ex­tended pain and suf­fer­ing for the fam­i­lies and vic­tims of those killed and in­jured at Marikana. Pres­i­dent Zuma de­scribed events at Marikana as a “hor­ren­dous tragedy”. Yet he has come un­der fire for a slug­gish start, with ap­par­ent in­ac­tion over the rec­om­men­da­tions that he out­lined in his June sum­mary.

He also needs to act on his blind spots. The pres­i­dent should do the right thing by ac­cept­ing civil li­a­bil­ity on be­half of the state and fast­track the process of com­pen­sat­ing the hun­dreds of vic­tims who are cur­rently pre­par­ing civil law­suits against the state. Another blind spot is the fact that the com­mis­sion had not cleared the ex­ec­u­tive en­tirely. The com­mis­sion had an open find­ing re­gard­ing then po­lice min­is­ter Nathi Mthethwa and was un­able to find pos­i­tively in his favour due to a lack of ev­i­dence. The re­port points to a mys­te­ri­ously miss­ing mem­ory stick and po­lice com­mis­sioner Riah Phiyega be­ing “dis­tinctly eva­sive and un­help­ful” dur­ing at­tempts to get her to an­swer ques­tions about the role Mthethwa played.

These rev­e­la­tions, which arise from a close read­ing of the re­port, are likely to be wel­comed by the com­mis­sion­ers, who have been dodg­ing bul­lets of a dif­fer­ent kind in the past month. Un­sat­is­fy­ing as the out­come may be, their task was to delve, not to be the ar­bi­tra­tors or pros­e­cu­tors. It is up to Pres­i­dent Zuma to ur­gently pick up where they left off in the in­ter­ests of the fam­i­lies – and the public.

PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

‘The man in the green blan­ket’

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