South African commission probing miners’ deaths starts proceedings

Updated 8:45 PM EDT, Mon October 1, 2012

Story highlights

NEW: The commission members plan to visit the settlement where the miners lived

The commission will look into the conduct of Lonmin, mine unions and police

Protests at the mine in the northwest killed 44 people, including two police officers

Of those, 34 miners were killed in a clash with police

(CNN) —  

A South African commission tasked with investigating the killings of dozens of striking miners by police started its proceedings Monday with a moment of silence and the reading of the victims’ names.

President Jacob Zuma ordered the inquiry into the killings, one of the deadliest attacks since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The proceedings are open to the public except in cases where officials believe justice will be undermined, the commission said in a statement.

For the next two days, the commission will look into how the events unfolded. Members plan to visit the settlement where the miners lived to assess conditions.

The strikes started in August at Lonmin-owned Marikana platinum mine in the nation’s northwest.

Police opened fire on demonstrators the same month, killing 34 workers. An additional 10 people died in the protests, including two police officers.

South African authorities at first charged 270 miners with murder before dropping the charges pending further investigation.

Workers at the mine ended their weekslong strike last month after accepting a pay hike of up to 22%.

Rights groups are calling for transparency and fairness in the proceedings.

“The powers and ability of the Commission of Inquiry appointed to investigate the deaths of 44 people near Lonmin’s Marikana mine in August must be clarified to ensure justice and redress for all those affected,” Amnesty International said in a statement last week.

Amnesty expressed concerns on the safety of witnesses and whether the commission has enough resources to support those providing evidence to the inquiry.

“Many potential witnesses may need financial support to engage with the commission, including for legal advice and transport,” Amnesty said.

The commission will look into the conduct of Lonmin, the South African police and the workers’ unions during the strikes.

It will have the powers to issue subpoenas and conduct searches.

CNN’s Nkepile Mabuse reported from Johannesburg; Faith Karimi from Atlanta