Editorial: Phiyega cannot carry blame alone

News that suspended police commissioner Riah Phiyega has been found to be unfit to hold office will come as no surprise to those who closely followed the Marikana tragedy and its aftermath.

It stands to reason that as head of the police force, having presided over the most shameful moment of our democracy, Phiyega should be held accountable.

At best, her actions in August 2012 displayed negligence.

At worst, they were that of an official hopelessly incompetent to lead the force.

It now appears, according to a City Press report, that the commission of inquiry into her fitness to hold office has recommended that she be dismissed.

Although Phiyega earlier claimed the inquiry was a witch-hunt against her, according to the report, her conduct during the probe could be viewed as contrary to that of someone eager to clear her name.

She refused to be cross examined, a decision which could be seen as displaying the kind of hostility she did during the Marikana Commission.

The outcome of this inquiry should, ideally, mark the end of this chapter by holding accountable a senior officer who had the power to prevent – or at least minimise – this tragedy. But it does not. As those close to her have indicated, Phiyega is likely to fight back in an effort to absolve herself from these damning findings.

How far that process goes could ultimately be determined by the courts.

But regardless of its outcome, of most significance is that the Marikana tragedy can never be placed at Phiyega’s door alone.

The decisions that lead to the bloodshed were not exclusively hers.

Marikana epitomises a rotten system that exploits the poor and most vulnerable in our country to protect and serve the political and business interests of those who hold power.

It is a system of impunity where the least powerful player takes the fall to give a semblance of accountability, while those equally or more liable are shielded from taking responsibility for unleashing unspeakable devastation. Phiyega must account. But so should the leaders she served.