When Jacob Zuma announced a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the shooting dead of 34 black miners by South African police, many felt it was intended to divert attention from the avalanche of criticism directed at him and his Government in the aftermath of the massacre. Few observers of the Inquiry proceedings, since it started in October 2012, felt it would deliver anything but a protective shield for the authorities. If the Commission reports what is widely believed to be the full truth underlying the events, it will be highly commended.
Following strike action for increased pay and improved working conditions, 34 miners working at the Lonmin mine, were killed in Rustenburg, on 16 August, and a further 10 died in incidents in the previous period. The Inquiry was commissioned to look at the factors that caused the incidents, and the role played by the police, the mine owners, the mining unions, and the mine workers in the massacre.
Shortly after the opening of the Inquiry, sociologist Peter Alexander led a team of academics and researchers that conducted its own interviews with mine workers and other witnesses on the mountain where the massacre took place. They published: 'Marikana a view from the mountain and a case to answer', which builds a case that assigns responsibility to both the South African Government, and the police. This work was motivated by conviction that the Inquiry would not listen to the voices of ordinary miners.
Inquiry proceedings have been hit by numerous crises which are seen as undermining the delivery of truth and justice by the Inquiry. The support to the families of the deceased miners during the Inquiry has been poor, and led to their absence at the start of the proceedings. Initial financial state support, on humanitarian grounds was soon withdrawn, leaving the impoverished families of survivors to fund themselves as best they could. A request from the legal team representing many of the families, and injured survivors to move the location of the Commission from Rustenburg to Pretoria to ease the financial burden on the families was not granted as members of the local community did want to be denied access. However, in a positive move, President Zuma has authorised the Commission to hold some of its hearings at any location.
Violence and death has also been a backdrop to the proceedings. In April this year, Dali Mpofu, the lawyer representing the miner's families, and those who were arrested after the massacre, was seriously injured when stabbed by an unknown assailant. The Commission took the view that his attack, which he survived, was unconnected to his work role in the Inquiry, to which he has been able to return.
The branch secretary of the National Union of Mine workers, Daluvuyo Bongo was killed last year before he could testify at the Commission, and a traditional healer who attended the miners, was also killed earlier this year.
The Inquiry has also been shaken by two apparent suicides of survivors of the massacre, the most recent taking place in May. A young miner, 27 year old Lungani Mabutyana, was found hanging from a tree after an earlier suicide attempt due to financial worries.
A further death, this time of Mawethu Khululekile Steven, a leader of the Association of Mine workers and Construction Union (AMCU) has also happened this month, before his testimony to the Inquiry has taken place. In what appeared to be a targeted killing, the union leader was shot four times by assailants who entered the bar he was in.
The Inquiry will continue hearing evidence until 31 May, and then has six weeks to submit its report to Zuma. Its findings must be truthful, meaningful, just, and pave the way for reconciliation and improved conditions for South Africa's mine workers. Until then, the Commission must do more to halt the violence and killings on its own doorstep.