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Marikana: Lest we Confuse the Police

29 August 2012, 13:00

The Marikana shooting was a sorry and sad episode in South Africa’s history. Many will argue that it could have been avoided and they are right. But many of the commentators seem to deliberately ignore the facts here. South Africans should not confuse the police. We should all let the police do their job without undue interference from any quarters otherwise we will become a nation of savages.

 My heart aches for South Africa. What just happened at Marikana mine could make even the worst cold stone-hearted person to weep. It was a disaster of serious proportions. My most sincere condolences to the bereaved families and friends. These are most likely the last resorts of a people who believe that their rights and demands are being suppressed.  But the end… The most immediate reaction for most of us will easily be to condemn what many have termed “police brutality”.  Although the President has announced a judicial Commission of Inquiry into the matter, I am tempted to give my view now when the matter is still fresh. I surely cannot wait for the 5 months for the commission to complete its findings.

 SAPS has in countless instances demonstrated that they are not a force who institutionalize police brutality. We have seen them act professionally even under immense provocation during service delivery protests. Compared to the police force of many other nations they are a cut above the rest in terms of their respect for human dignity. Ours is not a trigger happy force. Given this background, we cannot therefore spring up to condemn them for an isolated incidence without giving due cognizance of the peculiarities of the situation they unenviably found themselves contending with. If we continue to confuse the police, we will only become complicit in creating a South Africa where people have the latitude to break the law at will and make the country ungovernable because they will know that the people, under the guise of “democracy” and “the rights of the oppressed”, will continue to defend them. This is wrong.

I am an African and I am very conversant with African cultures and traditions. I know that in our culture it is taboo to say bad things about someone who has died, even if it means we have to lie. The Marikana saga:   We have over 3000 people, as reported in the media, most of whom are armed, howbeit some with primitive weapons, knobkerries and spears and pangas. These people have already been intimidating those other workers who had decided to exercise their “democratic right” to go to work. These striking miners have already been “made invincible “by a sangoma that they can do anything they desire at will. At this point they have already proved that they are indeed invincible by being involved in the deaths of 10 people, 2 of whom are policemen they had disarmed and nothing has been done to them.  Ummmh! These guys are not rehearsing for a drama or movie. They are into a serious and dangerous mission.

 The police have been negotiating with them to drop their weapons or withdraw from the fateful hill. They have flatly rejected the plea with a “we will fight even to death” shout. Even their leaders have lost control, their pleas also fall on deaf ears. Hey, what can the police do? The police handbook seems to be giving them limited options even. Our police carry tear gas canisters. Don’t they? This time they are well loaded in their numerous Nyalas nearby. What do they do now? Okay they arrange themselves into layers that begin to advance towards the protesting miners, who are clearly unfazed as they challenge the daring policemen.  In front are policemen with water cannons and tear gas tear gas canisters and some with rubber bullet guns and behind are those armed with live bullet state of the art shotguns. Clearly the police do not want to hurt anyone but they just want to disperse the rowdy, panga and knobkerrie and spear wielding crowd.

 A command is given. Boom! Boom! Boom! The first line shoots water and teargas canisters to disperse the unyielding miners. Then the unexpected happens. The miners begin charging towards the gun-totting policemen with the rage of infuriated bulls. They are up for a fight. Remember they have been “fortified” by the sangoma’s charms. The police seem to have failed to read the mood of the mine rock-drillers. The rubber bullets policemen men retort and the live ammunition guys fire towards charging “bulls”. Alas! The miners fall! A great calamity! “Damn it! Damn it! Damn it”, a policeman could be heard muttering to himself after realising that things had gotten very wrong.

 But. Who is to blame? The answer is simple. Wait, the commission will give details.  We cannot blame police at this stage. All we have to do is summed up in the president speech. “This is not the time to play the blame game.”  What worries me most is the tendency among many in the media and in politics who have started vilifying the police as if they could have done any better under similar challenging circumstances.

 Let’s not confuse the police. Let Phiyega do her job please. They are there to protect all of us especially the law-abiding citizens of the democratic South Africa. In their job, sometimes, they have a split second to decide who they should protect, the good citizen or the lawbreakers. The split second could mean their own graves many a time.. Difficult job sometimes. Without, in any way, exonerating the police, let us all let them do their job without fear of an unjust media and politicians. Those who have done wrong will, in due time, be punished when it is proved that they broke the law as has happened in other abuses that have been reported.

Instead, as we mourn, let us teach our people to understand their rights correctly.  Because, it is clearly not our right to fight and shoot the police. The emphasis should rather be to use the unfortunate incident to show that crime does not pay. Crime and demonstrations are two distinct actions.  The downtrodden have the right to protest most definitely. If we do that South Africa will not go the way of the other African countries. We cannot afford to be a nation of savages. My fear is that my clarion call will go unheeded.

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