Inevitably, every dinner table discussion amongst friends will veer towards discussing contemporary political issues. The in-topic at the moment is the Marikana Commission of inquiry and what appears to be the “emerging facts” which, at this very early stage, must be treated with a great deal of circumspection.
If one listens carefully, there are two opposing, yet equally troubling narratives emerging. The first one emerges from a deeply held mistrust of the ANC government since the Polokwane elective conference. In a nutshell, it suggests that;” this is what was to be expected from Zuma and his lot.” If the logic of this narrative is followed, it leads to the conclusion that somehow, the shooting of 34 miners in Marikana was a pre-meditated murder, committed by police on instructions from somewhere up there at worst, or at best, it was a function of a series of negligent actions by a police force which had, for some time, been told that it’s ok to shoot at innocent, unarmed civilians.
This narrative goes to the extent of making generous, ill-conceived and out rightly false comparisons between apartheid’s riot police actions and democratic South Africa’s public order policing tactics. The two can’t be compared as they are two different animals, grounded in two different historical and material contexts. The politics of this context are obvious; ‘use every opportunity you get to delegitimise government and state institutions,’ that way, you are taking a few steps forward in eroding the ANC’s legitimacy in the eyes of the public.
The second narrative, although couched in legalese, suggests that the law must be allowed to take its course and that; in any event, the police acted in self-defence and it was about time that the police stood firm against lawlessness. This narrative also infers that it was precisely because the police had hitherto treated the strikers with kid-gloves that the situation had deteriorated to a point where the miners felt emboldened to maim and kill with impunity.
Allowing the law to take its course is a code for;’ I don’t care, but I am hoping that the police can show that the miners deserved what they got.’
The truth, I suspect, lie somewhere between the two narratives.
I have already outlined why the logic of the first narrative is flawed.
Its trouble is that, because it is born out of a mistrust of government, it assumes that processes of government have been subverted to a point where state institutions can act on instructions and follow them without due consideration of legality or consequence. I agree that the Zuma-led ANC government has many faults, but I can’t imagine that such a decision could be taken at the most senior level and yet no one sees fault with it, assuming that the narrative is true.
In addition, I find it inconceivable that the ANC government can be so callous as to instruct the police to fire at striking miners and damn the consequences. With all their weaknesses, there are sensible men and women in the current government, who would not have allowed such a discussion to even happen
The trouble with the second narrative is that it assumes that the police are incapable of making mistakes and therefore, there should be no concern about the methods employed, as long as the police can maintain law and order, it should be fine.
I admit that the country’s crime rate is disturbingly high and as result, many ordinary citizens will welcome the police’s new-found resolve to end lawlessness and anarchy, but the facts as they obtained during that fateful day in Marikana require a closer examination before we rush into conclusions that may prove ill-conceived later.
This second narrative is more troubling as, if followed, it would lend credibility to the police’s use of excessive force, even under circumstances where it is not warranted, just because the public is fed up with crime and the police must be seen to be acting to deal with it.