1. October 2012

Marikana inquiry gets to work

The Farlam Commission of Inquiry has been given a four-month deadline for completion - but matters could be moving too quickly. While the emphasis on getting answers as soon as possible has been welcomed, questions remain over whether matters are moving too quickly to ensure a thorough investigation.

The investigation into incidents that led to the deaths of 44 people at the Lonmin mine in Marikana will begin at 9am in Rustenburg on Monday, Oct 1, five weeks after President Jacob Zuma announced the inquiry.

The commission has been given just four months, dating from September 12, to complete its inquiry and the terms of reference require it to submit monthly progress reports to the president. The first of these is due in just two weeks' time on October 12.

The parties involved in the commission include Lonmin, the South African Police Services (SAPS), the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the departments of minerals and labour. The families of the miners will also be given an opportunity to make representations and, in addition, anyone who wishes to make a submission to the commission may request to do so.

The hearings will begin with an in loco inspection at the site of the shooting. The commission will also visit other sites that may be referred to in evidence, including Wonderkop hill, mine shafts and the settlements around Marikana.

It is rumoured that the commission will examine all available video evidence documenting events on the day of the shooting on Tuesday. Whether the evidence will be available in time remains to be seen.

In a statement released on Friday, the commission said the first session would focus on the events immediately preceding August 16 – the day of the shooting – and each party would be given the opportunity to present an overview of these events from its point of view.

The commission has asked SAPS to provide an overview of events from the police's perspective and asked that the presentation include notes, photographs and plans with annotations. Although the commission may call for some parts of the proceedings to be held in camera – in the interest of justice – the inquiry will be open to the public. Seating will be provided for on a first come, first serve basis and the family of those who died during the incident will be given preference. Additional viewing facilities will be made available outside the auditorium and at a community hall in Marikana.

A source close to the inquiry told the Mail & Guardian that litigators, which include some of the best legal minds in the country, were having difficulty preparing themselves for oral submissions on such short notice. "This is the biggest post-apartheid inquiry since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The implications of it are nothing short of historic. It's like being asked to participate in the biggest trial in your life on a week's notice, with the rules of court being published just the day before things are supposed to commence," he said.

The parties involved are waiting to hear what order they will be called on to make their submissions with – those who are called on later will have more time to prepare.

Another source, who asked not to be named, told the M&G that some parties suggested to the commission that the hearings should be postponed for further evidence to be collected. It remains unclear whether the commission will grant this request. "The only certainty is that there will be an in loco [inspection] on Monday and Tuesday, and on Wednesday they will sort out what the process will be going forward," he said.

There is also some speculation that, given the extent of the investigation required, and the number of parties involved, four months may be too little time to complete the inquiry and that the commission may need to request that the president grant an extension. "It's a hell of a short time to do it – not only in four months but in four months that include the Christmas shut-down period," said the source. (Mail & Guardian)

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