Johannesburg - National police chief Riah Phiyega implicitly condoned the deaths at Lonmin mine in Marikana, Democratic Alliance MP Dianne Kohler-Barnard said on Monday.
“On the same day that President (Jacob) Zuma declared a week of national mourning, Phiyega said that police officers should not be sorry for the deaths of 34 protesters at Marikana,” Kohler-Barnard said in a statement.
“This shows a gross lack of empathy in a time when SA Police Service members need a leader with an iron-clad moral compass to assist them to make sense of this tragedy.”
On Thursday, 34 people were killed when the police opened fire on striking workers, some of them armed, when trying to disperse them after a week of violent protests.
Another 10 people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed in violence at the mine in the week before.
The police ministry said 78 people were injured and 259 arrested during Thursday's shooting.
Kohler-Barnard said Phiyega's excusing the police's behaviour could not be tolerated in a time when tensions were high.
“Although it has yet to be determined whether the police acted unlawfully or in self-defence, stating that the police should not be sorry is preposterous,” she said.
The National Association of Democratic Lawyers (Nadel) has welcomed the commission of inquiry into the shooting.
“It is a matter of great concern that the situation was allowed to develop in the manner it did and culminated into a bloody confrontation between the strikers and the police,” it said on Monday.
“Nadel hopes that the commission will examine the whole incident and that whoever may be found culpable for any wrong-doing, especially the deaths that took place, will face the consequences that meet their culpability.”
The protests were believed to be linked to rivalry between the National Union of Mineworkers and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union over recognition agreements at the mine. Workers also wanted higher pay.
However, according to trade union Solidarity's deputy general secretary Gideon du Plessis, there was a misconception that the dispute mainly revolved around underpaid rock drill operators, who earn R4000 a month.
“It is clear that many of the protesting workers were not aggrieved rock drill operators, but that opportunists exploited the strike. This resulted in crime,” he said.
“The protesters' violent behaviour, the brutal murders of innocent people and the use of witch doctors and traditional murder weapons rather indicate a political motivation and opportunistic positioning instead of an attempt to negotiate a solution.”
Du Plessis said the adjusted total cost package of a Lonmin rock drill operator was about R10,500 a month, excluding bonuses.
African National Congress Chief Whip in Parliament Mathole Motshekga has held talks with the leadership of the National Interfaith Council of SA.
“We are extremely pained that in our young democracy, which is still coming to terms with our traumatic past, such a violent and bloody battle escalated to the level that it did and left such destruction in its wake,” he said. - Sapa