Five years ago 34 miners, mostly employed by Lonmin platinum mines, were shot dead by police in Marikana in a scene reminiscent of the apartheid era. Over 70 people were injured. To date, no-one has been prosecuted and there has been no compensation or reparations.
The killings, known as the Marikana Massacre, took place in the North West Province, about 100km from Johannesburg. It is estimated that a further 10 people, including two police officers and two security guards, died in the days preceding the massacre.
What crime did the striking miners commit that resulted in the police using high-velocity ammunition from R5 assault weapons against them causing devastating injuries and death? They were protesting for better living conditions and a monthly wage of R12,500 (approximately US$935). At the time they were earning R4000.
In October 2012 the Government set up a commission headed by retired Judge Ian Farlam to investigate the killings. The Farlam Commission released its findings in June 2015 in which it exonerated key political figures such as Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. It also raised a number of concerns and made recommendations.
The response from the NPA? Deafening silence.
One of these was that those who committed the killings, both police and strikers should be investigated. It also called for an inquiry into Lonmin's failure to protect employees.
The Commission further stated that the police operation of 12 August 2012 was triggered by the decision the night before by senior police officials to forcibly disarm and disperse the strikers despite foreseeing bloodshed. It described this decision as "reckless and inexplicable" and as the "decisive cause" of the deaths.
In March this year, the Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) told Parliament that they have identified 72 police officers, headed by Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega, for prosecution for their role in the killing of the miners. Charges would range from murder and defeat the ends of justice to perjury. In May the dockets were handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for action.
The response from the NPA? Deafening silence. Yet they were keen to forge ahead with prosecuting 16 mineworkers accused of murders before and after the massacre.
"How can they kill so many people without consequence?"
Amnesty International has been monitoring the situation and working with the affected communities since the massacre. Grief among families of the victims remains palpable. The sorrow is intermingled with anger and shock. "How can they kill so many people without consequence?" asked one surviving victim, who asked not to be named for fear of retribution.
A woman whose husband was one of the 34 miners killed told Amnesty of the pain and anguish felt by her family. "It's like having a wound and someone keeps touching it and making it sore again. We will not heal until those who killed our family members are prosecuted."
Achieving full accountability, in this case, is not just vital for the victims of Marikana and their families, but also essential to ensure the respect and protection of human rights in South Africa. The NPA owes it to the affected families to prosecute those responsible. Failure to do so will only serve to sustain impunity and will leave open wounds that will not heal and will continue to flare up.