An inquiry has found shocking evidence that South African police have lied and falsified documents to cover up the truth about their killing of 34 protesters at the Marikana platinum mine last year.
The explosive revelation of a police cover-up in the “Marikana massacre” has forced a halt to the official inquiry. The commission announced on Thursday that it is shutting down its public hearings temporarily while it investigates the cover-up.
The inquiry has already heard disturbing evidence that the police hunted down and killed fleeing protesters even after a first clash had ended. It also heard testimony that the police planted weapons next to the bodies of dead miners in an attempt to justify the shooting.
The cover-up began to unravel last week in testimony by Duncan Scott, a lieutenant-colonel in the South African Police Services (SAPS). He gave the inquiry a computer hard drive with videos and photos from the scene of the Marikana killings. The inquiry also obtained thousands of pages of police documents that it had not seen before.
In a hard-hitting statement on Thursday, the inquiry listed four ways in which the new evidence showed a police cover-up.
First, it said, the inquiry had obtained documents that the police had previously said were “not in existence.”
Second, there were documents “which in our opinion ought to have been previously disclosed by the SAPS, but were not so disclosed,” it said.
Third, the inquiry said, some of the police documents had been falsified. It said the documents gave the impression that they were an immediate record of what happened in Marikana, but in fact they were “constructed after the events” – in some cases at a special nine-day meeting in which the police were preparing for the inquiry.
Fourth, some of the documents show that the police version of the Marikana events – as presented in police testimony at the inquiry – is “in material respects not the truth,” the inquiry said.
“We do not make this statement lightly,” it added, saying that the material has “serious consequences” for the further work of the inquiry.
It said it would need several more days to review all the new material and obtain access to “additional hard drives and electronic records.”
A local investigative website, Daily Maverick, said Lt.-Col. Scott provided the hard drive to the inquiry because he “did not want to take the rap for his superiors.”
There was speculation on Thursday that the inquiry might be forced to shut down completely if the police refuse to co-operate.
The South African government appointed the inquiry after 34 protesters were shot dead and scores wounded in a police crackdown on Aug. 16, 2012, at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana.
Most of the protesters were striking mineworkers. It was the deadliest police shooting of protesters in South Africa since the apartheid era ended in 1994.
The inquiry is also reviewing 10 other deaths at the same mine earlier that month, including two police and two security officers.
Video images from Marikana have shown that the police began firing with automatic rifles when the protesters advanced toward a line of police on Aug. 16, following days of violent clashes in the mine strike.
Police officials have defended their actions by arguing that the protesters were armed and belligerent. But most of the protesters were unarmed, and none of the hundreds of police officers in Marikana were injured in any way, according to testimony at the inquiry so far.
Many people have compared Marikana to the notorious Sharpeville massacre in 1960, when apartheid police killed 69 protesters in a South African township. The police at Sharpeville also used “self-defence” as the justification for shooting the protesters.
One police officer who was in Marikana testified that he heard a police constable shooting an injured miner. When he asked the constable why he had shot the miner, he said the constable replied: “They deserve to die.”