JOHANNESBURG Photographs suggesting that South African police planted weapons on the bodies of workers shot dead by police at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine have been shown to an inquiry into the bloodiest security incident since apartheid.
In police photographs taken shortly after the killings on August 16, at least two dead workers are seen without weapons by their sides. In photos taken later in the day, weapons including spears and a machete are on the ground near the corpses.
The photographs, presented by the police as evidence to a government inquiry this week, were seen by Reuters on Tuesday.
George Bizos, a respected attorney who once served as Nelson Mandela's lawyer and is now representing families of the victims, told the commission there was a "prima facie case that there was a deliberate attempt to defeat the ends of justice".
Police captain Apollo Mohlaki, who investigated the crime scene, was asked how the weapons could have made their way into an area closed to the public.
He told the panel: "I don't have any idea at all."
The police's lawyer told the panel that the matter was being investigated, although he suggested paramedics might have asked for the weapons to be moved so they could do their work.
Memories of apartheid era-violence were rekindled when police fired hundreds of live rounds into the group of wildcat strikers, killing 34, in what has been dubbed the "Marikana Massacre".
Police and the IPID police watchdog are both declining to make any direct comment on the course of the enquiry until it is over. Legal authorities have also suspended judicial action over the killings until the commission's findings are released.
Dianne Kohler Barnard, shadow minister of police for the opposition Democratic Alliance, said the apparent planting of evidence indicated police were more concerned about protecting themselves than upholding the law.
"We have had 18 years of democracy and the South African Police Service has gotten to the stage where they are planting evidence to try and clear themselves and warp investigations," she told Reuters.
In the week before the shootings, 10 other people were killed, including two police officers and two mine security guards allegedly hacked or burned to death by striking miners.
Evidence given to the commission has raised questions about police commissioner Riah Phiyega, a relative unknown handpicked this year by President Jacob Zuma to reform a force beset by allegations of corruption and brutality.
Opposition members of parliament and newspaper editorials have said the evidence so far indicates she is not up to the job, providing ammunition to Zuma's political enemies as he seeks re-election as leader of the ruling African National Congress in December.
Witnesses, and victims' lawyers who have seen post mortem reports, have accused police of shooting at least a dozen striking miners in the back as they tried to flee the scene.
The police said in their opening statement to the commission that they had used force as a last resort and that all the shootings were justified by the rapidly shifting situation.
The commission is expected to finish its work early next year, well after the ANC election race is over.
The inquiry is also investigating the role of Lonmin management in the violence, and of rival unions fighting a turf war for membership in the platinum sector.
(Editing by Kevin Liffey)