A lawyer has accused South Africa’s deputy president, Cyril Ramaphosa, of partial responsibility for the decision to forcibly remove miners in Marikana during a prolonged strike that led to police killing 34 miners.
Geoff Budlender, speaking on Wednesday as part of the closing arguments to the probe into the Marikana massacre, said Ramaphosa’s phone call to the South African Police Service (SAPS) acted as a “trigger” for the deadly crackdown.
“The South African Police Service acted from improper political reasons in deciding to remove strikers,” said Budlender, one of the lawyers for the commission of inquiry.
“One [motive] was to respond to the call Cyril Ramaphosa made to the minister of police.”
But Budlender added that Ramaphosa, who was then a director and shareholder at Lonmin platinum mines before becoming deputy president in May 2014, could not have anticipated the killings that resulted.
Thirty four miners were killed on August 17, 2012, when police opened fire on them while they were engaged in a protracted strike outside the Marikana mines. Miners were demanding better wages, working and living conditions.
Remember every victim who died at Marikana ... as an individual human being with a family and a life.
Ramaphosa has admitted he spoke to the ministers for mining and police to urge action, but denies encouraging a violent crackdown.
Budlender alleged that at time, the police plan to disperse the strikers included having mortuary vehicles on the scene.
But it was not just Ramaphosa that came under intense scrutiny from Budlender. The lawyer also urged the panel to look beyond criminal liability and punish the leadership failure on all sides.
In the days leading up to the shooting, eight miners were killed by some of the strikers, and two police officers were hacked to death.
“Whatever reason [the] shooters fired, presume it was lawful, that doesn’t end the inquiry, because if the operation was the result of reckless planning or poor planning, the SA Police Service would be responsible, even if the shooters lawfully fired,” said Budlender.
“The leaders of the strike, even if not legally responsible for the murders … did not prevent what the strikers did.”
Earlier, another commission lawyer Matthew Chaskalson recalled the “horror” of the day of the shooting.
“Looking day-in and day-out at pictures of bodies shot to pieces by assault rifles dulls our outrage at what is, and should be, unacceptable in a constitutional democracy,” he said.
“Remember every victim who died at Marikana … as an individual human being with a family and a life.”
The commission began in October 2012, sitting through 293 days of evidence from 56 witnesses, including police officers, trade unionists, Lonmin officials and injured and arrested miners.
Closing arguments will run until November 14. The final report on the shooting is due at the end of March 2015.