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South African president says panel found 'defective' conduct in police killings of strikers

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JOHANNESBURG — South African President Jacob Zuma on Thursday described the police killings of 34 striking miners near Marikana in 2012 as a "horrendous tragedy," saying investigators found that officers followed a flawed plan to control the protesters and there was "a complete lack of command and control" among some police at the scene.

A government-appointed commission recommended that state prosecutors determine whether any police involved in the killings on Aug. 16 of that year were criminally liable, but concluded senior political leaders were not responsible for the killings, Zuma said on national television. Those leaders included Cyril Ramaphosa, then a prominent figure in the ruling African National Congress party and now South Africa's deputy president.

At the time, Ramaphosa was a director and shareholder of the Lonmin mining company, which was hit by labor protests at its platinum mine near Marikana, northwest of Johannesburg. At least 44 people, including several police and security guards, were killed during the period of unrest in 2012.

The police killings of striking miners shocked many South Africans who were reminded of violent tactics used by South Africa's security forces during white minority rule, which ended with the country's first all-race elections in 1994.

"The Marikana incident was a horrendous tragedy that has no place in a democracy," said Zuma, adding that the world didn't expect such an episode in a "free and democratic South Africa."

Zuma said: "We should, as a nation, learn from this painful episode. We should use it to build a more united, peaceful and cohesive society."

The commission also found that Lonmin and union leaders could have done more to prevent confrontation, and that the striking miners themselves promoted conflict, according to the president. The panel, chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam, also expressed concern that it took about an hour to get medical help to some of the injured strikers.

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