Marikana inquiry faces challenges

Commission struggles to find out the truth behind the deadly shootings at Lonmin’s Marikana mine.

The public hearings at the Judicial Commission of Inquiry ordered by President Jacob Zuma have begun.

The first two advocates representing some of the families of miners killed and injured when police opened fire on their protest on August 16 asked for a two week postponement.

That was rejected by retired judge Ian Farlam who is heading the commission.

He’s conscious the nation and the world are watching and, of course, that the clock is ticking.

Four months have been set aside for the commission and there’s a mountain of evidence and testimony to get through.

Farlam was keen to inspect Marikana for himself and so began with something of a macabre field trip.

Lawyers and journalists swarmed around him as a police forensic expert showed Farlam around the scene of the initial confrontation between police and the miners – where 16 of them were killed.

Every 10 metres the police officer would pause to say this was where he’d found ‘x’ number of cartridge.

Farlam had a map but being in the midst of 150 people meant that when he tried to get his bearings by looking around, he was met with a sea of expectant faces and cameras, not the geography he was there to see.

It seemed a bit pointless.

The second scene is what’s known here as small koppie (hill).

It’s where eye-witnesses told me they’d seen police shoot miners who were trying to surrender that day.

Here he was given a bit more space to clamber over rocks and crouch in the undergrowth. Miners we spoke to said they’d been hiding from the police here.

It’s the evidence from this scene that will be the most contentious, the most interesting and potentially damning.

Day two of the site tour focused on the miners living conditions with a visit to the mens’ hostel, a hostel where families can stay – and to the informal settlement.

Farlam would never have known it, but to anyone who’s been there regularly through the strike it was obvious the place had been cleaned up.

It was far from pristine but the blanket of trash, plastic bags, dirty nappies and food scraps that dozens of stray dogs, goats and chickens are normally scavenging through had been bulldozed away.

That will be the commission’s biggest challenge – to see the truth and find an objective balance when all the parties involved have had time to cover their tracks.

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