Gatherings Act abused in Marikana massacre - expert panel

2017-09-05 17:11
Marikana miners hold their weapons up high. (File, AFP)

Marikana miners hold their weapons up high. (File, AFP)

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Marikana memories: 'Miners fell like scattered clothes'

2017-08-16 08:58

Wednesday marks the fifth anniversary of the Marikana massacre, where 34 miners were killed by police during a wildcat strike in the platinum belt outside Rustenburg in the North West.WATCH

Cape Town - An expert panel appointed by the police ministry says limited legislation, as well as poor planning and decision-making led to an abuse of the Regulation of Gatherings Act during the Marikana massacre.

The panel was reporting back to Parliament's portfolio committee on police on Tuesday on its work in aiding the implementation of the Farlam Commission's findings into the 2012 massacre.

Panel expert Eldred de Klerk told MPs that the critical issue involved in the Act's use was the role of the local municipality and the responsible officer in the build-up to the mass shooting.

"South Africa's police service actually has a very small remit in the Regulation of Gatherings Act," De Klerk said.

"And we feel there has been an abuse of that Act. The Act is currently being challenged in our courts.

"We actually feel that the SAPS should come in not just as respondents, but to learn from those challenges to ensure we mend, review and critically focus on the incoherencies in the [Act's] definition, but also the actual practices around the Act."

Command, planning confusion

De Klerk said there were four separate units acting on the day, all with separate interests, competencies, worries and leadership. Planning was lacking during the week too.

The one glaring thing that the massacre highlighted therefore was the ability of South Africa's police to address large and complex situations.

"We do it well when it comes to events. We need to do it daily when it comes to the right to peaceful protests."

They have thus recommended a command structure going forward to address tense environments that require public order policing.

Other state departments, particularly government and local councillors, have a larger role to play to resolve in collective bargaining.

READ: Dlamini-Zuma chased from Marikana koppie

The panel's report also focused on why the police failed, and what was best practice for public order policing.

The country's police personnel needs to be better trained in being able to "take punishment" during tense public gatherings, he said.

War of attrition

"One of the critical things about Marikana was the decision to intervene," De Klerk continued.

"A critical international governing principle is the question of non-intervention. It doesn't mean you do nothing. It is harder than intervening, as it is seeking to ensure that all regulations are followed.

"Non-intervention is a very hard thing to do, to tell our police to step back and take it, so to speak."

Ultimately, a well-trained, skilled and patient police force will always win out in the end.

"Public policing the world over is a war of attrition. Fit and proper police personnel will always outwait members of the public who have other demands on their time and energies."

Other areas the panel made recommendations on include the use of force. Automatic weaponry should never be used, they agreed.

When a police unit does intervene in a public situation, dignity must still be the yardstick for the quality of how that should be done.

"De-escalation should always be at the centre of any crowd management operation, and not escalate the situation by the actions they take."

Ranks vs roles

It agreed with the call to demilitarise the police service, and to encourage a more citizen-based professionalism. Ranks should be done away with, and rather there should be an emphasis on roles.

Key skills were being lost in one section of policing due to the ranking system. A police officer who is skilled in forensics can be moved to a completely different sector due to his rank, thus losing a critical role in the process.

"We do have a top-heavy police core. We do believe there needs investment in our police officers so they can grow. It's about investing in people, not just technologies and capacities."

Police Minister Fikile Mbalula has gone on record with his wish to take the work of the panel and subject it to scrutiny and peer-review, De Klerk also said.

"We want to make sure our police is managed successfully... so we get the police service we deserve."

Areas the panel was not mandated to look at was compensation for the families, as that will happen elsewhere.

The panel was appointed in January 2016 by then Police Minister Nathi Nhleko.

Along with De Klerk, who works for the Africa Centre for Security and Intelligence Practice, the members include: Themba Masuku of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation; Adele Kirsten of Gun Free SA; Gareth Newham of the Institute for Security Studies; David Bruce, an expert witness at the hearings; independent expert Dr Elizabeth Grobbler; and international law enforcement expert, Cees de Rover.

Read more on:    marikana massacre

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