14/07/2014. Former police minister, Nathi Mthethwa during the Farlam commisiion of inquiry in Centurion. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

Johannesburg - The killing of 34 miners at the hands of the police in Marikana should not have happened in a democratic South Africa, says former police minister Nathi Mthethwa.

Testifying on Monday at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the massacre, he said that as the political head at the time, he took full responsibility for the action of the police.

The commission was set up to investigate the Marikana tragedy during which 44 people were killed and scores injured.

After concluding his testimony, Mthethwa was asked if he wanted to say anything more.

Looking solemn, Mthethwa said the shooting and the deaths at Marikana should not have happened in a democratic South Africa.

“Something terrible went wrong in Marikana. It was a tragedy visiting our democracy in the country. It was indeed a tragedy.”

Mthethwa denied he was put under any political pressure regarding the strike at Marikana.

However, he alluded to the fact that he had received calls from ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and then National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president and newly appointed Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana saying they were concerned with the situation at Marikana.

“They were saying that they were concerned about what was happening in the area, particularly the now-Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. He said that he didn’t think that what was happening was pure industrial action. He said it had criminality in it.”

However, in a conversation between North West provincial police commissioner Vuyiswa Mbombo and a Lonmin official, Mbombo mentioned receiving a call from Mthethwa saying one of the politicians was putting pressure on him.

Mbombo was sitting behind Mthethwa as he was testifying on Monday.

Now Minister of Arts and Culture, Mthethwa denied being party to the e-mail by Ramaphosa where he mentioned that a cabinet meeting was going to take place on August 15, and Marikana was going to be discussed.

Mthethwa said he was in KwaZulu-Natal on that day doing his ministerial work.

He features prominently in e-mails sent by Ramaphosa to Lonmin chief commercial officer Albert Jamieson.

Ramaphosa was a Lonmin board member at the time. He has claimed numerous times that he was in contact with Susan Shabangu, minister of mineral resources at the time.

Ramaphosa also claims to have told Shabangu to tell Mthethwa to “act in a more pointed way”.

Mthethwa told the commission he bore responsibility for the actions of the police.

“As the political head at the time of the police, I would be responsible for all the things the police were doing.”

This response came after he was asked by advocate George Bizos if he would accept criminal and civil liability for the deaths of 34 mineworkers who were shot dead by the police during a 3 000-man strike at Lonmin mine in Marikana.

Mthethwa was also questioned by Bizos about a statement he made regarding police “fighting fire with fire” when he was heading the police portfolio committee in 2008.

“When I was given the responsibility to head the portfolio of police in 2008, the situation in the country at the time was dire, especially by (sic) the criminal gangs who were terrorising people in cash-in-transit heists. A lot of life and limb was lost during that period.

“These were people driven by greed to rob banks and cars carrying cash.

“It was a situation where there was pressure on police and people suggested the police were unable to deal with this kind of thing because of the level of violence. Ordinary people were being killed.

“At some point we were tempted to follow what the trend was… Let’s bring in the army because police have failed.”

Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko attended the hearing.

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The Star