MARIKANA, South Africa (AP) — South Africa’s police chief said Tuesday she stands by her statement praising officers involved in the shooting massacre of 34 striking miners and insisting they were “just doing your work.”
Evidence before the judicial commission questioning her Tuesday has indicated some miners were shot in the back as they tried to flee and others were killed when they already were wounded and no threat.
Gen. Riah Phiyega said “I stand by statement.” She repeated that after a commissioner asked her if she might feel differently given other evidence that has come to light.
Police said they opened fire after striking miners attacked them. No police were hurt in the Aug. 16 incident at the Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg, that shocked the nation with its echoes of police brutality under apartheid. It was the worst state violence since that system of white minority rule ended in 1994.
Phiyega, who had been newly appointed, stuck to her story even after evidence leader Mbuyiseli Madlanga read testimony from a police officer who said that he was searching for other suspects when he heard a gunshot from behind, where he had left a group of wounded miners. He said he turned to see a constable putting a revolver back in its holster and, when he asked what was going on, the constable said: “They deserve to die.”
Photographic evidence presented to the commission in November showed police may have altered the scene of the killings and planted weapons after they shot 112 miners, killing 34.
Photographs taken by police at night show more weapons by the dead bodies than there were in news photographs taken immediately after the violence.
Video evidence shown to the commission has also indicated that some of the slain miners were handcuffed.
Thousands of miners had been striking for six weeks in Marikana to demand more money. Twelve people had been killed before Aug. 16, including two police officers, in violence blamed on rivalry between two unions, including the government-allied National Union of Mineworkers. The day after the shootings, Phiyega told a gathering of officers, “I want to thank you once more for doing what you did … All we did was our job, and to do it in the manner in which you were trained. … Don’t feel you are being persecuted as police — you were doing your work.”