Former police commissioner Riah Phiyega has vowed to clear her name in the shooting that left 34 Marikana miners dead during the Lonmin wage dispute in 2012.
“[I am] branded as the cause of the killing which I am not – I am not a killer. If there has been a systems failure let judges say so.
It cannot be that I caused this because that is the narrative that is out there,” Phiyega said in an interview with News24.
Phiyega rejected any culpability in the worst massacre by police in the history of democratic South Africa.
The shooting happened just 64 days after she had taken over at the helm, as the first female police commissioner with no policing experience.
Her term of office ended this week, meaning unlike her predecessors, while she was suspended, she retained her title as a retired general as she was never fired.
Phiyega is reviewing the findings of the Farlam Commission that investigated the deaths of 44 people including the miners, security guards and police officers in the impoverished Marikana informal settlement in North West, and the subsequent Claassen inquiry that found her unfit to hold office and recommended she be fired.
Phiyega still maintains she has done nothing wrong.
“I got into police with my dignity. I did not command any operation to kill and I will not leave with indignity from [the] police service. For my children my friends, my colleagues [at SAPS] this burden of carrying the can of a killer which I am not, I want it to be resolved by neutral objective court,” Phiyega said.
The ‘tactical option’
She maintains the two commissions contradicted each other as retired judge Ian Farlam found she had misled his commission by concealing that she led the national management forum – a meeting of senior leaders – the night before the shootings, and deciding to implement the so-called “tactical option” to use maximum force against the striking miners.
However the Claassen inquiry found her not guilty on misleading the commission but said she should have foreseen the decision to go tactical would cause the shooting that led to deaths of 34 people.
“I am sitting with all those contradictions, what do I do? I go to somebody who will go and sit and look at the law and is neutral and objective. “I no longer trust commissions. Did they have a mandate, did they look for predetermined outcome, did they listen to the noise and ignore the law and evidence?…When another judge can find another judge wrong what must I say?” Phiyega told News24.Phiyega argued in her review application papers that she had no constitutional powers to lead the operation, as the law allows her to intervene in provincial matters only if instructed by the president.
In the hour long interview, she maintained that neither President Jacob Zuma, nor other members of his executive ordered her disarm the miners.
Days before the shooting, then Lonmin non-executive board member Cyril Ramaphosa wrote an email to then police minister Nathi Mthethwa and then minerals and energy minister Susan Shabangu calling for “concomitant action” to end the violence that had already plagued the labour dispute.
“There was nobody who came to give me an instruction, or gave me a mandate, even Ramaphosa’s emails – I never saw them before they were presented at the commission,” Phiyega said.
Ramaphosa is currently deputy president of the country, and is a front-runner to be elected leader of the ANC in December.
‘Catastrophic system failure’
In her court papers Phiyega argues that retired North West police commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo took the decision to use “tactical force” to disarm the miners.
Phiyega’s review application is expected to be heard in the High Court in Pretoria before the end of the year and she expects SAPS to pay the legal costs.
“Marikana happened in the police service, and it was not commanded by me, and it happened in the pretext of me working for the police. There are vicarious liability issues – there is no way I can absorb those costs for anybody,” Phiyega said.
She again apologised to the widows and victims of the shootings, but blamed the massacre on a “catastrophic system failure” within the police, unions, Lonmin, and the Labour and Minerals and Energy ministries.
“To the widows, the children, friends of all 44 people– I have apologised. I will apologise today and I will apologise tomorrow but could I have done anything to help them, I am of the opinion that there isn’t much that I in those 64 days [that] I could have done to help them,” Phiyega said.
“That loss of life was unnecessary, [the] loss of life of members fighting for salaries was unnecessary. That failure of total system needs to be looked into.
“I am of opinion [that] not much is done, [about] the squalor in Marikana, the non-compliance with the [mining] charter, the salaries of miners … Look at Australia and Canada – miners seem to share in spoils but Marikana remains a tragedy.” – News24