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Wed Nov 26 11:57:02 CAT 2014

Marikana inquiry unlikely to unravel the full tragic story

The Times Editorial | 22 November, 2012 00:46

The Times Editorial: 'Get out there and engage . as a protection, as a protection, get out of the nyala and engage. The task force will come next."

These are some of the commands that rang out yesterday at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the death of 44 people in the North West platinum belt in August.

Colonel Solomon Vermaak issued the instructions on August 16 from a helicopter observing the stand-off between striking Lonmin miners and police officers.

Vermaak might not be the official who gave the specific instruction for his colleagues to exchange rubber bullets for live ammunition but the evidence yesterday offers clues about what happened on that tragic day.

Vermaak, who could see the miners moving towards the police, continued instructing the officers to keep the protesters at bay with water cannons and not fire lethally unless "the target" engaged them.

The commission was shown footage from the "other" side, of Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa telling members to be steadfast.

From the numerous pieces of footage played at the commission, it is clear the miners were armed with traditional weapons and were adamant they would not surrender what they believed was their right to strike.

From Vermaak's instructions, it is clear that some things have not been explained. How did the police move from "no lethal force" to 16 miners dying in a hail of bullets as they charged towards the police? And how were 18 miners slain at the so-called small koppie?

August 16 in Marikana, as we are discovering, was a day of complexity and chaos, fear and defence. It was a day of demands and force, of the might of belief meeting the power of live ammunition. It was a day of confusion.

As the commission continues, there is a sense that the explanation for August 16 will not be a straightforward one of culpability and innocence.

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