The Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana massacre highlighted poor leadership from SAPS as the main factor that led to the police opening fire on protesting miners, killing 34 on 16 August 2012.
It recommended that the appointments of senior command personnel were audited to avoid confusion among the rank and file within SAPS, that the use of force in public order policing needed to be reviewed and that automatic weapons had no place in public policing.
The National Development Plan (NDP) shared a similar sentiment, calling for the demilitarisation of the SAPS “in order to ensure that the police were a civil service”. In the Research Study on the Demilitarisation of SAPS, Visible Policing in the Western Cape published in June 2018, the NDP added:
“The decision to demilitarise the police force, moving away from its history of brutality, was a key goal of transformation after 1994. The remilitarisation of the police in recent years has not garnered greater respect for the police or higher conviction rates. If anything, it has contributed to violence. The police should be demilitarised and managed towards a professional civilian service”.
Yet seven years on, it appears little has changed.
Speaking to Daily Maverick before the 7th anniversary of the Marikana massacre, Cees de Rover, international law enforcement expert and former member of the Panel of Experts set up to help the SAPS implement the Farlam recommendations, said although the commission achieved a comprehensive review of the events at Marikana, it failed to ensure that those responsible in police, government, unions and Lonmin were held to account.
“The delays in implementation of the recommendations exceeds any measure of credibility. Claims of SAPS hierarchy that it has made headway in organisational change are simply contradicted by incredible stories of incompetence, indifference, corruption and outright criminality in the South African Police Service,” he said.
According to the Marikana Inquiry report, De Rover testified that he had suggested an immediate withdrawal of the R5 assault rifle from Public Order Policing operations. He said military assault weapons had no place in law enforcement and that he was fully aware of the problems of violence in South Africa.
He said it had to be remembered that the compensation due to victims families was yet to be finalised and it should be kept in mind that the prosecutions and investigations recommended by the commission were still to be completed.
“From afar I am appalled at the apparent governmental and SAPS indifference at the conclusions reached by the Farlam Commission and the subsequent work done by the panel of experts.
“It is time for justice to be done because the truth remains that with SAPS at the public order helm, a Marikana can happen again tomorrow. Nothing has changed,” he said.
David Bruce, an expert witness at the hearings and former panellist, said that because of the number of people killed in the massacre and the context of violence in which the massacre took place, it had been appropriate to set up a commission of inquiry in order to understand what had happened.
The fact that the Farlam Commission had been established and that public and other money was invested in sustaining it over a two-year period was in itself a recognition that what had happened went far beyond what should be regarded as acceptable in South Africa, he said.
“So, whatever the other shortcomings of the commission and of achieving justice in relation to the matter, the fact that there was a commission in itself amounted to an official acknowledgement (probably not enthusiastically given) that something very wrong had been done,” he said.
Bruce said the commission also provided a forum for expert international opinion to be provided on how this kind of policing operation should be managed and conducted.
“One of the things the commission process revealed was the complexity of interpreting much of what had happened. This was aggravated by the fact that the police went to considerable lengths to mislead the commission. The commission’s report is a reasonable and even-handed assessment of the evidence, though it may be seen to fall short in some respects,” Bruce said.
The massacre and commission process have also contributed to the recognition of the need to maintain Public Order Police units, something that had been neglected prior to Marikana and the Andries Tatane incident that took place 14 months before the 16 August 2012 shooting, he said.
“There is also recognition that R5s, and other automatic rifles, should not be used when dealing with crowds. However, this has not translated into any formal regulations prohibiting such use,” Bruce said.
Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies, and former expert panellist, said there had been some responses to the Farlam recommendations, citing the panel of experts who met monthly and after two years presented a report to the minister of police in April 2018 with recommendations for police reform. But:
“To my knowledge, this report has not been presented to Cabinet for the findings and recommendations to be considered”, he said.
He said a number of police officers had also been criminally charged for the death of a striking mineworker that occurred on 13 August 2012. However, to date, there has been no accountability for the police officers who oversaw the massacre or directly killed unarmed miners. Nor have any of the officers who lied under oath before the Farlam Commission been held accountable.
He said justice would only be served when the police officers who acted unlawfully and committed acts of misconduct on that day were held personally accountable.
“There should be disciplinary hearings and criminal charges. Until this happens, justice will not have been served.
“Political will from the president and the minister of police will ensure that the recommendations are implemented,” he said.
On 16 August 2018, speaking to Cape Talk, police minister Bheki Cele reaffirmed the progress in implementing the recommendations, saying that they are “not far from honouring and completing the recommendations by the Farlam Commission of Inquiry”.
“I think we have tried, we might not have made any announcements, but I think we are very close in trying to fulfil and honour all Farlam’s suggestions and proposals and in the present future I believe we will be able to make the final pronouncement of the matter,” he said.
However, attempts to get updated comment from national police spokesman Vishnu Naidoo were unsuccessful. DM