The Marikana killings, which shocked and shamed both South Africa and the international community, took place between mid-August and 20 September 2012. Marikana is the site of the Lonmin platinum smelting plant in the North-West province.
The origin of the tragedy lies in a series of unprotected strikes by miners and other workers at Lonmin. They were demanding a wage of R12,500 per month, which led to outbreaks of violence and the death of nine people (four miners, two policemen and two security guards) involving the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the South African Police Services (SAPS) and Lonmin security staff. Competition between the NUM and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Wokers for allegiance of the workers formed the background to these events. Those responsible for the atrocities were never clearly identified or held responsible.
In an atmosphere of escalating fear, accusations and counter-accusations, a SAPS unit supposedly trained in strike management, fired upon a group of advancing and armed protesting miners on a kopjie near to Marikana village killing 34 and wounding approximately another 80. The incident sent shockwaves throughout South Africa and internationally and was compared to the 1960 shootings at Sharpville during the apartheid era.
Subsequently, President Zuma, under heavy criticism, appointed a commission, headed by former Supreme Court of Appeals Judge Ian Farlam, to investigate the causes of the tragedy and indentify if there had been a dereliction of duty by the SAPS. In the interim the North-West platinim belt was affected by wild cat strikes both in protest agianst police actions and to demand pay increases. This impacted negatively on the economy of the region. Two hundred and seventy miners were arrested and charged with public violence during this period, while the government tried to calm anxious markets and restore investor confidence, while simultaneously heading-off international condemnation of the tragedy.
The national Police Commissioner, Riah Phiyega, a Zuma appointee, maintained in evidence to the Farlam Commission that the police acted in self-defence, and it was a 'tactical' response to disarm the strikers. There were also calls for Zuma to step down as President, and Cyril Ramaphosa, his current Deputy, was heavily criticised for making a number of phone calls allegedly calling for firm action against the strikers-he was, however, cleared by the Farlam Commission. ANC aligned elements essentially defended the actions of the police and typically rallied around their leaders, making Phiyega the scapegoat for the tragedy. Lonmin also came in for a lot of attack. The company issued a statement of regret; essentially Lonmin interpreted the shootings as having nothing to do with its mining operations. The North-West SAPS commissioner Lieutenant General Zukiswa Mbombo was also found to have failed in his handling of the crisis and allegedly attempted to obstruct the work of the Farlam Commission. .
The findings of the Farlam Commission led to the Claasen inquiry which found that she was unfit to hold office and had lied to the Farlam Commission. Phiyega, who had been on leave pending the conclusion of the invesigation was finally suspended by Zuma in early February 2017, joining a list of national Police Commissioners who had suffered the same fate. She indicated her intention to challenge the decision through the courts.