South Africa: Full accountability for the Marikana killings urgently needed

On the second anniversary of the catastrophic events in Marikana, justice for the victims and full accountability are still urgently needed, Amnesty International said today. All those involved in the unlawful decision to use lethal force must be held fully accountable and the disturbing pattern of obstruction of the investigations into the deaths must stop. 

Amnesty International believe that the police, acting on an unlawful decision, used unjustified lethal force against the miners, leaving 34 dead and more than 70 others injured. The police, possibly in collusion with others, also concealed and falsified evidence and attempted to mislead the judicial Commission of Inquiry into the deaths. 

“Two years after the Marikana shootings, the need for full co-operation with the inquiry and accountability for both the unlawful killings and the cover-up of these crimes is as urgent as ever,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Southern Africa. 

“Despite the scandalous attempted cover-up, which began immediately after the shootings and delayed the work of the Commission for at least a year, justice must be done.” 

In spite of the fact that bloodshed was foreseen by those who took the decision to use lethal force, adequate medical assistance was not on hand and the delay in getting paramedics to the scene is likely to have contributed to the suffering of the injured. Chillingly, four mortuary vans had been ordered by the police. 

The decision to disarm, forcibly if necessary, and arrest the striking miners was taken on 15 August 2012 by the Provincial Commissioner and endorsed at an Extraordinary Meeting of the National Police Management Forum. The decision, which was not dependent on any escalation of threat to life, and the subsequent deployment of tactical units with firearms using live ammunition, including R5 assault rifles capable of automatic fire, had no basis in international or domestic law. 

The “loss” of the minutes from this critical meeting is just one of a litany of incidents which suggest a systematic attempt by the police authorities, with possibly higher level involvement, to conceal or falsify evidence and to mislead the Commission. Other incidents include: tampering with the crime scene; withholding or delaying the submission of police weapons for ballistics testing; the withholding of police computer hard drives; and the provision of statements lacking in detail as well as evasive oral evidence by senior police officials and commanders. 

“Achieving full accountability in this case is not just vital for the victims of Marikana and their families, but is also essential to ensure the respect and protection of human rights in South Africa,” said Deprose Muchena. 

“The killings at Marikana were not a tragic accident but a completely avoidable outrage and until those responsible are brought to justice, the threat of a repetition of such unlawful killings will hang over South Africa.” 


The Marikana Commission of Inquiry was appointed by President Jacob Zuma on 23 August 2012. It has the power to refer any matter concerning the conduct of specific persons to an appropriate law enforcement agency or other body for prosecution or further investigation. 

The Commission, which is chaired by a judge, commenced its work in October 2012 and has currently had its term extended until 30 September 2014. 

The police operation in Marikana on 16 August 2012 was intended to disarm, disperse and arrest those taking part in a strike and gathering deemed illegal at Lonmin’s Marikana mine. 

Thirty-four miners were killed when the police opened fire and more than 70 others sustained serious injuries. 

The Commission is also looking into the circumstances of 10 other deaths which occurred in the preceding days. These include two Lonmin security guards and three Lonmin workers, all allegedly killed by the strikers. Two police officers and three striking miners also died during still unclarified circumstances on 13 August 2012. 

The command decision to forcibly disarm the protesters was unrelated to any increased threat posed by the protesters at the specific time. The resulting further decision to deploy large numbers of police units with firearms and live ammunition was not triggered by any threat to life or the intention to protect or save any life. As such these actions were unlawful, including under domestic law obliging police officers to act within a framework of minimum force, and international law and standards, in particular the obligation to respect and protect life. Principle 9 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms allows for the use of firearms only in defence against imminent threat of death or serious injury and only when less extreme methods are insufficient. 

In September 2013 the Commission released a statement 10 days after gaining access to police computer hard drives and previously unseen police documents which the police had claimed did not exist. It stated: “We have obtained documents which in our opinion demonstrate that the [police] version of the events at Marikana…is in material respects not the truth.”