South African police may have withheld information and lied about the killing of 34 protestors at Lonmin Plc’s Marikana mine last year, according to a commission of inquiry probing the deadliest mining violence since the end of apartheid.
Lawyers for the commission gained access to thousands of pages of new documents from police computers, which the police previously said didn’t exist, according to a statement by the commission posted on its website yesterday. The documents suggest that police evidence “is in material respects not the truth,” the panel said.
The statement was “unfortunate and highly prejudicial” and the police force would’ve liked a chance to explain itself before the commission made the claims, Lieutenant-General Solomon Makgale, a spokesman for Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega, said in an e-mailed statement today.
President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission to probe the deaths of 44 people during violence in August last year, including 34 killed on Aug. 16 when police opened fire on a crowd of striking workers at the Marikana mine, located about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg. The panel postponed hearings until Sept. 25 to allow its lawyers to review the new information, the commission said.
The commission’s lawyers obtained evidence that may show some documents were “constructed after the events to which they refer” even though they were presented as being completed at the time of the incident, the panel said. The information was willingly handed to the commission by police members, it said.
The revelations are “hugely scandalous,” David van Wyk, lead researcher of the Johannesburg-based Bench Marks Foundation, a group formed by Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, said in an interview today. “It shows the police edited the evidence which proves that they overreacted on the day.”
The Bench Marks Foundation is participating in the commission’s work and lobbying to widen its scope to examine the underlying causes of last year’s violence, rather than only the incident itself. It has documented seven suicides by men affected by the trauma of the shootings.
Lonmin, Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. and Anglo American Platinum Ltd., the world’s three-biggest producers of the metal, last year suffered output losses and cost increases because of violent strikes.
The commission’s progress has been stalled because victims and their families cannot afford to pay for lawyers. Dali Mpofu, an attorney for the victims, said his team can’t immediately comment on the documents because they are being reviewed.
The police “should have the opportunity to explain the matters which have raised our concern,” the commission said. “However, we have to say that absent a convincing explanation, the material which we have found has serious consequences for the further conduct of the work of this commission.”
Constitutional and other legal implications are “far reaching” if the transgressions occurred, Johan Kruger, director of the Centre for Constitutional Rights, a civil society group based in Cape Town, said in an e-mailed statement.
“First, serious questions must be asked about the state of accountability and transparency” within the police service, he said.