UNDERMINING arguments that officers acted in self defence when they killed 34 people, South Africa lawyers said police shot at least a dozen striking miners in the back during the so-called “Marikana Massacre” in August,
Lawyers for the victims, according to Reuters also told a South African investigation panel hearing opening statements on the August 16 shooting at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine that no police officers appeared to have been injured in what was the deadliest security incident since the end of apartheid.
“(Evidence shows) that no less then 14 striking miners were shot from behind,” Dumisa Ntsebeza, a lawyer for families of 21 of those killed told the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.
“That would be wholly inconsistent with the claims of necessity that the South African Police Service will advance.”
If it is proved that the police did shoot miners in the back, it could be used by critics of President Jacob Zuma, who is facing an internal election at the end of the year to renew his leadership of the ruling African National Congress.
South African police said they had used force as a last resort and that all the shootings were justified in what was a swiftly shifting situation.
“The evidence will regrettably show that some of the protesters intended a bloodbath,” the police said in their opening statement.
Video images of the police gunning down protesters rekindled painful memories of apartheid, which ended in 1994, and raised questions about salaries at the mines where tens of thousands of workers live in shanty towns near shafts producing enormous mineral wealth.
About 3,000 protesters demanding higher pay and armed with spears, clubs and at least three handguns, converged on a hill at the Lonmin mine for several days in mid-August.
Ten people, including two police officers and two Lonmin security guards, were killed before police shot dead 34 and injured more than 70.
In the past few weeks, major global ratings agencies have soured on South Africa, criticising Zuma’s government for failing to fix a broken school system and chronic unemployment which have fanned social unrest and eroded the competitiveness of Africa’s largest economy.
After the Lonmin wildcat strike was settled with hefty wage increases, more miners in the platinum belt centred around Rustenburg, about 120 kms (80 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, embarked on a wave of often violent wildcat walkouts that paralysed several platinum and gold producers.
Most of the disputes have been settled, with many firms threatening to fire striking workers if they did not return.
Lonmin management and the powerful National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) told the panel several witnesses were being intimidated into not testifying. An NUM official was killed earlier this month and the union said he was executed to prevent him from giving evidence.
The trouble at Lonmin was sparked by a turf war between NUM and the upstart AMCU union.
“The climate of violence and intimidation that characterised the period leading up to August 16 has not abated at Marikana and has since spread to other mines in the Rustenburg area, leading to more death, injury and destruction,” NUM said in its statement.