Was it justified? Was it legal? The fatal shooting by South African police of more than 30 striking miners has raised a number of uncomfortable questions.
On Friday South African President Jacob Zuma cut short his attendance at a regional summit to return home one day after police killed more than 30 people when they opened fire on striking miners at the Marikana platinum mine. Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega said her officers acted to protect their own lives after strikers armed with dangerous weapons charged them. She said the strikers had failed to disperse despite the use of water cannon and stun grenades. For an assessment of the incident and the police action, DW turned to Johan Burger, senior researcher with the Crime and Justice Program at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) in Pretoria
DW: Mr Burger, did the police act within the law?
Johan Burger: We don't have enough information yet to make a definitive statement, but from the video footage that we saw it does appear that the police were justified in the use of at least a certain amount of deadly force.
It was clear from the video footage that they were under attack by quite a large number of heavily armed people. The weapons included firearms, some of them were confiscated afterwards by the police, and a range of other dangerous weapons including machetes, axes, spears and other sharp objects. I think when one looks at those scenes, then it would support police claims that they were under attack and that they acted in self-defense.
President Jacob Zuma cut short his visit to the regional SADC summit meeting in Mozambique to head to the mine. He said he was shocked and dismayed by events. He refrained from condeming the police action. What do you make of this?
I think it's the responsible thing for him to do in both ways. The fact that he's come back and has cut short his visit to Mozambique shows his assessment of the situation is correct. It is serious enough to warrant his return to South Africa immediately and his personal presence at the scene to make certain everything is done to properly attend to the situation. Secondly, the fact that he does not condemn the actions of the police outright can, I think, also be justified on the basis that there should first be an investigation and a thorough assessment of the situation, Then we can condemn whoever needs to be condemned. I think that is a responsible approach to this incident.
What sort of reputation do the police have in South Africa these days?
Unfortunately the police have been suffering over the last year or two from huge internal problems, for example in terms of corruption.
We've had one national commissioner who's serving a sentence of 15 years ( although he's now out on medical parole). Another national commissioner was relieved of his duties by the president after two reports found he was unfit for office. A number of other senior people in the police are being investigated for corruption. So there are huge problems within the leadership of the South African police. At other, lower levels there is also corruption. You also see problems as far as discipline is concerned, you see abuse of power. I think this incident will only further negatively impact on the image of the police.
This incident has deepened the line between the governing African National Congress (ANC) and a nation that, 18 years after the end of apartheid, is increasingly impatient with deep poverty, rampant unemployment and inequality. Has the government done enough to address these issues?
No, they have not done enough and I think if you look at the latest reports by the National Planning Commission, although they tread very carefully, they do point out weaknesses in policies and policy implementation. One of the biggest problems in South Africa is that we do not have an ability to effectively implement all the very good policies and strategies that we have. These are things that people are complaining about and this is demonstrated by the huge number of public service protests that we see every year. It's clear that the general public are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the level of service delivery and the effectiveness and efficiency of government departments and the services they provide. These are things that should certainly alert the government in terms of where they are going.