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Marikana miner inquiry opens

South Africa's judiciary has taken a first step towards getting to the bottom of a blood-soaked clash between miners and police in August. But it will not announce findings until next year - after a crucial ANC election.

A retired judge on Monday toured the place where South African police killed dozens of striking platinum miners in August, as he began his judicial probe into the worst security clash that post-apartheid South Africa has ever witnessed.

The retired Supreme Court of Appeals Judge Ian Farlam said the inquiry would help South Africa to get to the truth about the incident and would “be part of the healing process.”

Farlam is chairing a commission made up of a trio of legal experts. They will scrutinize the actions of all parties implicated in the showdown with workers at the Marikana mine in the country's North West Province. The mine belongs to Lonmin, a leading producer of platinum group metals. Those in the spotlight are the police, Lonmin officials, trade unionists and the miners themselves.

Earlier on Monday, the names of the dead miners were read out as the triumvirate began public hearings in Rustenburg, the nearest town to the Lonmin mine.

ANC under pressure?

South Africa's president and the leader of the ruling African National Congress party, Jacob Zuma, set up the commission being headed by Farlam after police fired on Lonmin miners who were striking over pay on August 16th killing 34 workers. Ten people were killed in the lead-up to the incident and two have died since.

South African President Jacob Zuma (C) speaks to the leadership of striking Lonmin mineworkers during his visit to Marikana near Rustenburg, South Africa EPA/STR

Jacob Zuma appointed the commission to look into the Lonmin mine incident

The commission's investigation is expected to take around four months, and its legal team are to present their findings early next year. That means its judgement will come after the ANC leadership election in December. But if police come under criticism in the final report, that could still be politically damaging to the ANC and Zuma in the long term.

Strikers from Lonmin returned to work in September after they came to an agreement with their employers over pay, although strikes have continued to break out across country's mining sector, shaking investor confidence.

sej/msh (dpa, Reuters)