The final report of Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the events at Marikana, released last week, has been widely lambasted in the press. Equally scathing about commission’s “failure to get justice” for the 34 miners killed by the SA Police Service, has been the social media commentariat.

The amount of criticism directed at Judge Ian Farlam and his two assessors is inversely proportional to the number of people who actually read the 660-page report, rather than relying on often shallow and politically partisan assessments trotted out by vested interests.

Some, like the radical Economic Freedom Front and its allies, were hoping that the commission would find a “smoking gun” that would link the SAPS’ excessive use of force directly to orders originating in the presidency, acting in collusion with international capital. Others, like the centrist Democratic Alliance and its supporters, would have been content with just the first part of that equation being true, triggering the downfall of the despised President Jacob Zuma.

The tripartite alliance of the African National Congress, SA Communist Party and the Congress of SA Trade Unions, hoped that the upstart Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, perceived by it as a stalking horse of the EFF and responsible for eroding the membership of Cosatu’s National Union of Mineworkers, would be fingered.

All of these, as well as some within the tripartite alliance, would have been pleased to see Cyril Ramaphosa — then a senior ANC national executive member and director of the Lonmin owners of Marikana mine, but now Zuma’s deputy — identified as the villain.

Truth is, we were all eager at the most primal level to have Farlam reach clear-cut, blame-apportioning conclusions. We wanted closure, for the Marikana massacre seared the national psyche in a way that was almost worse than the 1960 Sharpeville killings of 69 unarmed passbook protestors by the police.

The Sharpeville shootings were the actions of a hated regime, its state-sanctioned violence always bubbling under the surface and readily unleashed. But Marikana was the result of actions by the police of a democratically elected black government and, for many believers in the “rainbow miracle”, a shocking end to political innocence.

It is natural to want things to be starkly black and white, but reality is sketched in tones of grey. To start with, there were not only the 34 miners killed by the police, but eight others, including police officers, who had been hacked, slashed, stabbed and bludgeoned to death over a number of days, in a series of rampages by the striking miners.

It is remarkable, when one reads the news archives, how often the gruesome deaths of these men at the hands of the strikers is glossed over or entirely ignored. To some political players these deaths were of little import because to acknowledge them detracted from a revolutionary narrative of innocent miner victims.

So when Farlam produced a report that allots some degree of blame to all involved, he inevitably pleased no one. That’s a pity, for whether one agrees with his conclusions or not, the report is measured and balanced, showing no evidence of the bias that its critics accuse it of.

Farlam makes it clear that SAPS was obstructive, evasive and downright dishonest. It hid and “lost” evidence, constructing a sanitised version of what happened. Its leadership was ill-informed, disorganised and incompetent.

Much of the blame for all this accrues to National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega and the North West provincial commissioner, Lieutenant-General Zukiswa Mbombo, both of whose fitness for office is questioned by Farlam.

Mbombo has since retired and Phiyega appears to be hanging onto her job by a thread. Both still face the likelihood of an investigation by the National Prosecuting Authority and possible criminal charges.

It’s naïve to expect Farlam to have ruled more forcefully on this emotive issue of culpability and criminality. As he points out, the commission was not a court of law and it was neither desirable nor possible to hold it to the same rules of evidence. All it could reasonably do is direct the attention of the NPA to those deserving of criminal investigation.

On the critical and politically explosive matter of whether the upper echelons of Zuma’s government ordered SAPS to forcefully end the strike, Farlam accepts that it was highly unlikely that there was not executive input into the decision, but states that there is no conclusive evidence of this. Again, however, politically disappointing this might be to many, it is judicially sound.

While there are lacunae in the Farlam report, it is testament to the thoroughness of the commission and rectitude with which it operated, that they are relatively few and arguably unavoidable. In the same way that there is a “fog of war” which makes unpredictable and unclear what happens on the battlefield, the witness accounts to Farlam are similarly shrouded in the contradiction and confusion of what was a terrifying, bloody encounter.

It seems that Farlam and his assessors have done as good a job as was possible. Given the lack of any evidence to the contrary, the slurs on their characters and probity are disgraceful.

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye


William Saunderson-Meyer

William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

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