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Unexpected announcement at Marikana inquiry

Relatives the dead react with bewilderment as South Africa inquiry says police overreacted at mine strike.
Last modified: 23 Oct 2012 10:15
Relatives reacted with bewilderment as the opening statement was read [AFP]

The hall where the Marikana commission of inquiry is taking place is half full, stuffy and loud.

Things are running late and people are getting restless and bored as they wait for the opening statement to the inquiry into the deaths of 34 workers at the South African mine.

It's hot and stuffy - the air conditioning isn't doing a good job.

One man is carried out after almost fainting.

We look at our watches and wonder how long it will be before someone else falls.

Then the families of those who died during the Marikana tragedy walk in - women, men and a few children. It's the first time they are at the inquiry.

The first two and a half hours are matter of fact and rather tedious. The police defend their actions on August 16 when 34 miners were gunned down.

Then an extraordinary statement from attorneys representing the police.

In short:

1) There was no order to shoot

2) The situation that day got out of control

3) They may have mistaken their own friendly fire for miners shooting at them

4) The police need more training in dealing with large gatherings

It's not word for word but that's the gist of what was said.

Relatives of the deceased miners start crying. Observers in the auditorium are in shock. It's safe to say anyone who had fallen asleep suddenly woke up.

I will admit I wasn't expecting this.

But it has to be said the police did say in some instances they acted in self-defence, as some of the miners were armed. Those of us who have seen some of the footage know a few striking miners had guns.

But all that was lost on the bewildered audience in the auditorium.

Post mortem results, ballistic reports and video footage showing the final moments of the miners before they died will be shown later.

If Monday is anything to judge by - in between the tedious sessions, the stuffy auditorium and people occasionally fainting, we might hear a few more eye-opening statements not just from the police but Lonmin mine managers, rival unions and the lawyers of the deceased miners.

The inquiry will drag for a few months but watch this space.