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Lack of Funds Slows South Africa Mine Shooting Investigation

People sitting outside their shacks in the Nkaneng shantytown next to the platinum mine, run by British company Lonmin, in Marikana. South Africa, July 9, 2913.
People sitting outside their shacks in the Nkaneng shantytown next to the platinum mine, run by British company Lonmin, in Marikana. South Africa, July 9, 2913.
— It has been one year since 34 striking miners were gunned down by police in Marikana, a northern South African mining town.  In the meantime, funding for the miners' legal team has run out, putting the investigation into the shooting on hold.

One year ago, police opened fire on striking miners at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana.  Thirty-four people were killed, and 10 others had been killed in the days leading up to the massacre.

In the wake of the shootings, which also resulted in more than 70 injuries, a commission was set up to investigate, with recommendations to be made to President Jacob Zuma.  The commission had been moving forward, but the donated funding for the miners' legal team has run out.

That issue has been a major point of contention for the miners and their legal team, which brought the matter to the North Gauteng High Court last month.  The attorneys argued that the indigent miners should have funding for representation.

Commission spokesman Tshepo Mahlangu explained that because the commission is not a criminal court, the miners don't have a constitutional guarantee for representation.

"This commission is viewed in this country as an extension of the arm of the state organ.  In other words, it is an investigative body, it is not a court of law.  As a result, that is why the high court could not find any legal basis to grant an order that forces the president to be able to fund their legal costs," said Mahlangu.

The commission is now on a bit of a hiatus.  The miners have appealed the court decision to the Constitutional Court.  In the meantime, they are awaiting a donor who could fund them until a decision is made.

Apostle Sakhumzi Qiqimana, a preacher in the area, says the community has been watching closely, but a lack of funding for representation will send the wrong message.

"They were believing in the authorities, because they were trying to find truth when they were denied the right to be represented, because they don't have money to pay those lawyers.  So they are feeling like the authorities, they are using that to sabotage the results of the commission, so they are starting to go back and not believing again to the authorities," said Qiqimana.

Qiqimana added that people would just like an acknowledgment that what happened was wrong.  "A public apology is going to be very much critical for the police principals to go in public and say guys we were wrong, we didn't do our work correctly.  And then we are sorry, because our work was not supposed to kill people, our work was to disarm people,"  .  So the operation went wrong, so we are asking forgiveness for that.  We are sorry we've killed people.  If they can go in public doing that, I'm telling you all South Africa would be healed.  Because that's the only thing they are waiting for.  Even the families are crying tears because they feel as if the police are defending themselves throughout this."

Residents say the community has been plagued by violence since the massacre, with rival unions driving much of the violence.

Elizabeth Nkomo, who lives in the informal settlement next to the mining operation, said through a translator that the community has been prone to violence and life has not improved. "People are still being killed.  There's no weekend that goes by without any form of violence.  We are scared.  We don't know what might happen to us at what time," she said.

She's hopeful that the commission decision can bring some stability back to the area and improve lives. "We trust that it's going to help us.  We are just hoping the commission will help us and give us what we deserve and what we are asking for as a community," said Nkomo.

The commission will resume Monday when a decision on funding is expected.

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