No justice, no reparations five years after Marikana

The ISS proposes practical steps to ensure accountability and show that lessons have been learned.

Pretoria, South Africa – Five years after police killed 34 striking mineworkers and injured 78, the government has not delivered justice or reparations for the largest post-apartheid police shooting of civilians. This is despite the finding of the Farlam Commission of Inquiry that bloodshed on 16 August 2012 was wholly avoidable.

On that day, members of the South African Police Service (SAPS) shot 112 mineworkers at Marikana in South Africa’s North West province during an ill-conceived and reckless operation to disperse around 3 000 striking workers from the Lonmin mine.

The only person to date who has faced any consequences is the disgraced former national police commissioner Riah Phiyega. She was suspended on full pay in October 2015 – three years after Marikana – until the Judge Claassen inquiry found in December 2016 that she was unfit to occupy the post of SAPS national commissioner and recommended she be fired.

Despite the judge’s finding and a mountain of evidence that policing and public safety deteriorated substantially under Phiyega, President Jacob Zuma maintained that she was doing a good job and allowed her contract to expire in June this year, so she could keep her generous pension and other benefits. Phiyega is reportedly being allowed to use taxpayers’ money to review findings of both the Farlam and Claassen inquiries. Neither application is likely to succeed. 

The ISS closely monitored the Farlam Commission and provided three different expert submissions during proceedings. The first submission was used by Advocate George Bizos as part of his cross examination of Phiyega.

‘Government must demonstrate to South Africans and the world that the senseless loss of life at Marikana has resulted in lessons learned and will never occur again,’ says Gareth Newham, head of the ISS’ Justice and Violence Prevention Programme.

There is still an opportunity to improve public order policing through the panel of experts recommended by the Farlam Commission and established by the minister of police in 2016.

‘The panel will make formal recommendations to Cabinet by the end of the year as to how the SAPS can be further professionalised and public order policing improved in line with our Constitution,’ says Newham, who is a member of the panel. ‘If these recommendations are effectively implemented, then we should see improvements in policing going forward.’

The ISS has indicated several practical ways in which government can demonstrate that lessons have been learned from Marikana:

  • Paying fair compensation to the victims and families of those killed or seriously injured at Marikana.
  • Ensuring a merit-based, transparent and competitive process for recruiting the next SAPS national commissioner so that only the most experienced and honest person gets the job, as detailed in the ISS-Corruption Watch Top Cops campaign.
  • Expediting the investigation and prosecution of police where evidence shows they acted unlawfully at Marikana or committed perjury before the Farlam Commission.
  • Ensuring that the actions of former police minister Nathi Mthethwa and former commissioner Riah Phiyega are further investigated for potential criminal and civil liability.
  • Formally adopting dedicated policy and legislation that regulates the police use of force in line with international best practice. For example, ensuring that all police-issued weapons can be traced to individual police officers and that R5 automatic rifles are banned from policing and replaced with more appropriate weapons.
  • Reforming the National Intervention Unit and Tactical Response Teams and only deploying these units when lives are at stake. These units caused the most deaths and injuries at Marikana and should be subject to higher standards of accountability and transparency than regular police.
  • Ensuring that all SAPS members are instructed on the findings of the Farlam Commission and that lessons learned are integrated into relevant operational training and planning.
  • Dedicating more resources to the Independent Investigative Directorate (IPID) to ensure greater police accountability for deaths, shootings and serious misconduct. 

Clearing up the misconceptions about what happened at Marikana

Farlam Commission findings against the police

  • SAPS had a duty to avoid bloodshed when planning operations.
  • SAPS top leadership knew that bloodshed was likely but reconciled themselves with this and went ahead with the operation anyway.
  • Irrelevant political considerations influenced police operational decisions.
  • The police, under the guidance of top management, hid important evidence from the commission and presented false evidence to the commission in an attempt to support an untrue version of events.
  • While some of the police may have felt under threat at scene one where they shot and killed 17 people, there was no objective evidence of self defence.
  • The police could not show that 16 of the 17 deaths at scene two occurred as a result of an attack on the police.
  • The commission could not find in favour of the former minister of police Nathi Mthethwa and noted that the expert testimony before the commission argued that it was unlikely that he did not influence the police operations at Marikana.


For more information and interviews:

Gareth Newham, ISS: +27 82 887 1557, [email protected]

Development partners
The ISS is grateful for support from the following members of the ISS Partnership Forum: the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the governments of Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the USA.
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