The SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) came under fire in Parliament on Tuesday for launching its own investigation into the Marikana massacre, despite a judicial commission of inquiry having been appointed by President Jacob Zuma.
MPs questioned the logic of having a separate investigation to that of the judicial commission appointed days after the shooting of 34 striking miners at a Lonmin mine.
The commission – briefing Parliament’s committee on justice and constitutional development – said it would be investigating the context in which the shootings took place. This included issues such as poor sanitation, contaminated water supply and cultural tensions between miners.
But ANC MP, John Jeffery, asked why the commission was persisting in its investigation.
“I’m very baffled… I would have thought the commission’s involvement is a waste of resources,” said Jeffery.
He suggested that the commission adopt a monitoring role over the judicial inquiry instead.
Committee chairman, Luwellyn Landers, said he was concerned that the various investigative bodies might “trip over one another’s feet”.
“I was worried when I saw what I saw [in Marikana]: the police, the national prosecutor, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, there was a plethora of investigators,” he said.
“They are going to trip over one another’s feet,” Landers said.
SAHRC deputy chairwoman, Pregs Govender, told MPs that the Marikana tragedy had brought a “very urgent focus on human rights and the need to ensure that the commission, Parliament and other stakeholders find ways of working very clearly and in co-operation”.
She said part of the motivation for the investigation had been a report compiled by the Benchmarks Foundation on the state of the platinum mines and the plight of miners. The report revealed the poor living conditions of miners, including contaminated water from mining activities.
SAHRC commissioner, Janet Love, said the findings of the investigations… would be presented to the judicial commission to assist in its inquiry.
She referred to tensions between workers employed by the mines, but not from the area, and local residents. Love said the local residents had requested a “wider context [of issues] to be brought to the [judicial] commission”, and that the SAHRC would conduct this research.
Another SAHRC commissioner, Danny Titus, insisted on the need for its investigation in addition to the judicial commission. “We have the intention of human rights at heart,” he told MPs.
Jeffery warned against the potential harm of having too many parties investigating the same matter. He said the testimonies of witnesses could be significantly affected.
Although the commission gave the assurance it would try to avoid interfering with the judicial inquiry process, DA MP, Dene Smuts, said it would be almost impossible not to do so.
She said there was no way to conduct an investigation – even one focused on human rights abuses – without taking statements. These would most likely come from the same people questioned by the judicial inquiry.
MPs’ dissatisfaction extended to the involvement of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in assisting the commission in its investigation. They argued there was a conflict of interest because the LRC was also representing some of the families of the shooting victims.
“The SAHRC is not an NGO, it’s a Chapter nine institution; other lawyers of the victims’ families may not think it’s a conflict of interests, [but] as Parliament we think it is not right,” Jeffery said.