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Africa

Marikana probe vows to expose truth

An inquiry into events leading to the deaths of 46 people at the Marikana mine has begun in South Africa, vowing to uncover the truth behind what was reportedly the worst act of police violence since apartheid.

South Africa opened an official inquiry on Monday into the violence that accompanied  work stoppages at the Lonmin Marikana platinum mine in August. 

The commission was appointed by President Zuma and is headed by former Supreme Court of Appeal judge Ian Farlam. The probe opened at the Rustenburg Civic Centre with a roll call of those who died, a minute's silence and a promise that the truth would be exposed.  

"It is very important that the truth, in so far as what happened over that period should become clear as soon as possible," Farlam said, signifying the court would begin by looking at the events leading up to August 16, the day of the bloodbath.

"We have to balance the need to deal with the matter with expedition, with the need to be thorough."

The panel visited the mine site on Monday and were met by a small crowd of protestors, who demanded that the perpetrators of the unrest be held accountable.

At the site, Farlam said he hoped uncovering the truth about what happened would "be part of the healing process."

Politically damaging

The formal commission, made up of three legal experts, will spend the next four months investigating how 46 people, including two police officers, were killed over nine days of unrest in the worst act of police violence since the end of apartheid in 1994.

Policemen react after firing shots at protesting miners Photo: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

The inquest will determine how the protests came to end in bloodshed

The government, itself a player in proceedings because of its ordered security crackdown at Marikana which allegedly led to the killings, has requested the commission "investigate matters of public, national and international concern arising out of the tragic incidents at the Lonmin Mine."

Along with the ruling African National Congress (ANC), police, miners, unions, and the British-owned Lonmin mining company will all face tough questions about their management of the situation during the strikes, which began with miners downing tools and making demands for wage increases on August 10, 2012.

The commission's findings could be politically damaging for Zuma and the ANC, particularly if security personnel at the mine site were found to have been trigger-happy during the clashes.

The timeline to hand down the report means the final determination will come after a crucial internal ANC leadership vote in mid-December. Should Zuma win the ballot, it will give him the go-ahead to contest the 2014 national election as party leader. 

Critics have questioned the independence of the government appointed commission. However, Hubertus von Welck, regional director for Africa at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty in Johannesburg told DW he believes "the commission will work independently and come up with the results as they find them."

Accusations of exploitation

In addition to determining the events leading up to the bloodshed, the inquest has been tasked with looking at labor relations, pay and accommodation in South Africa's mining sector – all issues observers say were behind the unrest that lead to the killings. 

South Africa's main trade union federation, Cosatu, says the South African mining sector has a long history of exploiting its workers. Miners, local communities, and other previously disadvantaged groups, they say, could all benefit from South Africa's abundance of gold, diamond, platinum resources.

Striking miners dance and cheer Photo: REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

Miners, local communities and other interest groups want a share of mineral wealth

Zwelinzima Vavi, general secretary of Cosatu, union, says since the country's revised Mineral Charter came into effect in 2010, "mineral resources have become the property of the South African people."

Bheki Sibiya is the CEO of South Africa's Chamber of Mines. He explains that the mining companies are operating under licence and if they violate those licence conditions then "the minister is obliged to cancel their permits."

Lonmin precedent

Striking workers at the Lonmin mine site brokered a deal with management in September, agreeing to return to work after six weeks of strikes when a 22-percent wage increase was settled upon.

Illegal work stoppages continue to dog the South African mining sector. Gold, platinum, chrome and other mines across the country have been hit as workers demand higher wages following the deal agreed at Lonmin.

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