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In the Wake of the Marikana Massacre

Politics, Profits and Policing in South Africa

by PATRICK BOND

Durban.

As the official South African judicial investigating commission into the Marikana Massacre draws to a close in 2012, with many weeks of testimony in 2013 still ahead, what did the SA Police Service (SAPS) learn from their behavior?

SAPS Brigadier Zephania Mkhwanazi – who heads ‘public order policing’ and hence control of demonstrations – was asked this by commission chair Ian Farlam last week, and judging by his four answers, the SAPS have not begun to grasp the reality of the crime they committed on August 16:

* First, “Operational commanders and overall commanders rely on tactical commanders to give information,” and the latter’s communications broke down, so “We need to work that.”

* Second, Mkhwanazi recommended “less lethal” weapons in future. Teargas, stun grenades and water cannons were used to move thousands of wildcat-striking workers off the hill on the outskirts of Marikana where each day they had gathered. The semi-automatic rifles that killed 34 miners and wounded 78 others should be accompanied by “more options.” Reflecting police unpreparedness, while tear gas was being used on miners, forcing dozens of them down the mountain into a 5-meter gap in barbed wire where the first 16 were killed, the police were not issued with gas masks.

* Third, the operation “could have been conducted at night when there were fewer protesters on the koppie.”

* Fourth, the disarming of protesters was not attempted in the migrant labour hostels where wretched workers live in apartheid-era conditions. “It is important to know where firearms are kept,” said Mkhwanazi, yet “A hostel has a lot of rooms.” SAPS failed to search the hostels. (Actually, the police gave evidence of only one striking worker using a firearm against the police on August 16. The police suffered no casualties that day, although two of their members were killed by the same striking workers a few days earlier.)

During a famous service delivery protest in the small farming town of Ficksburg more than a year earlier, the televised police murder of community leader Andries Tatane traumatised viewers and gave the police a bloody nose. Many other failed public-order policing experiences required a rethink, and in August, SAPS were on the verge of banning sometimes-lethal rubber bullets from their armaments. But a resurgence of gung-ho cowboy policing took hold under the ‘shoot to kill’ leadership of recent commissioner Bheki Cele, judging by the testimony of Mkhwanazi, who joined the old SA Police back in the bad old days of 1986, when P.W. Botha was at the peak of his racist tyranny and thousands were killed, injured or jailed by apartheid cops.

Here are 19 other Marikana lessons that Mkhwanazi apparently didn’t consider:

Don’t shoot unarmed people dead, in their back, when they’re fleeing from you.

* Don’t plant weapons on dead bodies to make it look like you were threatened before you murdered.

* If 3000 people are on a mountain nowhere near Lonmin property and not blocking anybody or anything, just leave them there.

* Don’t take orders from Lonmin’s Cyril Ramaphosa to break a strike and call it ‘D-Day’.

* Don’t allow your leading on-the-scene official to suddenly become unavailable – even by phone – so that she can attend a purely political event.

* Don’t claim a massacre was ‘appropriate force’ and that ‘maximum force’ was justified.

* In a tumultuous setting, don’t cage people in with barbed wire.

* Don’t send police to a scene if they are irrationally hyped up with intent for revenge.

* Don’t demonise your victims.

Stop torturing people.

* Stop intimidating people who are testifying to the investigating commission.

* Don’t use the tactical response team, national intervention unit and special task force for crowd control.

* Don’t hire police video experts who are old-guard idiots and don’t send them to the investigating commission withutterly useless tape.

* Hire forensic investigators who know their job.

* Stop banning peaceful marches by women.

* If your troops are guilty of murdering unarmed people who are fleeing, then they should becharged and investigated as soon as possible instead of being told they did ‘the right thing’.

* Don’t charge massacre survivors with murder under apartheid-era common purpose doctrine.

Don’t laugh and smile at video footage showing a massacre, especially if you are police commissioner.

* For even an iota of credibility, don’t let your two prior police commissioners be corrupted by the mafia and real estate industry, or let your head of crime intelligence loot a police slush fund.

If the head of the unit responsible is unable to consider such obvious reactions, then the vital tasks of analysis, contrition and reform will apparently not be undertaken within the SAPS.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa was elected deputy president of the ruling party and at some stage within the next 18 months, will take the #2 political position in the country. The firm in which he is the leading South African-based shareholder, Lonmin, continues to repatriate profits to London where in 1973 British Tory prime minister Edward Heath termed it ‘the unacceptable face of capitalism’.

With the exception of a few whiners, big business is delighted that the ANC team elected at this week’s Mangaung leadership conference beat back the Julius Malema attack, and pose no fear of nationalizing anything.

With a few exceptions, trade union leadership appears paralysed. And backed by a Communist Party whose roots and current shoots reek of Stalinism, the ruling party has re-elected a sloppy, ultra-hedonist leader who apparently can be bought by even the sleaziest French or German arms dealer.

There’s a word for the political direction in which South Africa is headed, and it begins with F.

Patrick Bond directs the University of KwaZulu-Natal Centre for Civil Society in Durban. Bond’s account of the disastrous Doha Round of climate talks is featured in the latest print edition of CounterPunch.