Wednesday, 16 August 2023, marks the eleventh anniversary of the Marikana massacre. A good time to take stock of what has become of the truth, restoration and justice promised by the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.
I remember the words of a member of the SAPS legal team. At the time they were spoken, I had already been in South Africa for more than one year, tied up with the lengthy process of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.
I was frustrated with the endless talk fest, the legal jousting and grandstanding before the commission. I was not convinced this process would make a difference. To that, he said: “Justice needs to be seen to be done.”
How prophetic, and how true those words have proven to be.
With the benefit of hindsight, I know that only a version of the truth about Marikana is what the commission report ended up representing. The blame for the massacre was placed squarely at the feet of the SAPS. Those in political control at the time, and the other actors involved, were let squarely off the hook. No meaningful findings were made against the president or the minister for police. Nor against Lonmin or the mining unions Amcu and NUM.
Following a recommendation of the commission, an International Panel of Experts was established by the minister for police. The panel was tasked inter alia with looking at the functioning of SAPS in terms of structure, organisation and management, with a focus on public order policing.
Panel all petered out
The panel itself was gradually allowed to peter out. Starved of funds, towards the end, panel members were no longer meeting in plenary. Instead, work was done by correspondence. There was no formal closing and discharge of the panel by the minister of police. My last invoice for my time was never paid.
The report of the panel has been with the minister of police since 2018, gathering dust and rising without a trace.
Justice must be seen to be done.
I have said this before, but it is worth repeating. Commissions of inquiry and panels of experts buy an embattled government time. All a commission or panel can do is to give advice to the government that creates them. Clearly the government is not interested in following that advice and acting upon it.
The South African government was never interested in delivering justice and restoration to the victims of Marikana. Eleven years on, they are still waiting, and that glaring injustice is staring all of us in the face.
Going through the motions, again
It is not good enough to go through these motions time and again. Marikana aside, South Africa has known more different commissions of inquiry in the last 11 years than any other country where I’ve ever worked. They all share one thing in common. They don’t change one thing. They do not make a difference.
Of course, I understand the need and (relative) value of an inquiry process. Perhaps as a “lessons learned” exercise. However, the findings of such a process need to be converted into tangible steps for organisational change. Those steps need to be implemented and actual change achieved. If not, history will simply repeat itself. And there is ample proof for that in South Africa’s recent history as well.
The image and reputation of the SAPS was badly damaged by the incidents at Marikana. And since Marikana, examples keep piling up of SAPS struggling to come to grips with the public expectations placed upon them, both with regards to policing duties in general, and public order policing in particular. Task organisation, task implementation and task performance are all of equal concern in this regard.
I appreciate the reticence of the SAPS to confront the examples of where the institution fell short, where it failed to meet public expectation. Or, where it failed to adhere to tenets of legality, necessity and proportionality in the execution of their duties.
The problems that underpin reality
However, the problems that underpin that reality are not solved by ignoring them or by denying they exist. The prevailing obdurate attitude of SAPS management is not helpful. For example, a SAPS general on the panel stated that “SAPS will never be told what to do”.
To illustrate the latter, I have seen very little change in SAPS since Marikana. Public order policing still uses the same structures, tactics, and weaponry it used 11 years ago, the capabilities of which fail to keep step with the expectations of contemporary public order management.
SAPS leadership stumbles from one atrocious scandal to the next. Corruption and incompetence appear to have penetrated the highest echelons of the organisation. Inter-organisational hate, rivalry and factionalism are serious impediments to necessary organisational change.
Today we mark 11 years since those tragic days at Marikana. I quietly take stock of how little has changed, and how little progress we have made since then. Justice needs to be seen to be done. True.
However, I really need to see justice done in order to believe that. DM