September 22, 2015 / 1:51 PM / 2 years ago

South Africa's Zuma starts probe on police chief over 'Marikana massacre'

Members of the mining community walk near crosses placed at a hill known as the "Hill of Horror", where 43 miners died during clashes with police last year, during a strike at Lonmin's Marikana platinum mine in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, May 14, 2013. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South African President Jacob Zuma has launched an investigation into the police chief’s role in the 2012 killing of 34 miners by officers during a strike over pay, his office said on Tuesday.

South Africa’s worst police killing since the end of apartheid sparked intense public and media criticism toward the police, mining companies, unions, the ruling African National Congress and Zuma himself.

An inquiry into the shootings blamed a mining company, police and unions for what became known as the “Marikana massacre” and called for an investigation to establish the best methods for crowd control “without resorting to the use of weapons capable of automatic fire.”

The presidency said the three-member board would look into whether the country’s first female police boss Riah Phiyega and other senior police officers had concealed information on decisions they took while handling labour unrest at platinum firm’s Lonmin’s Marikana operations.

“President Jacob Zuma has ... established a board of inquiry into the allegations of misconduct by the national commissioner ... and/or her capacity to execute official duties efficiently,” the presidency said in a statement.

Zuma had given Phiyega a Sept. 28 deadline to show why she should not be suspended “pending the final determination of her fitness to hold office”, the presidency said.

The police spokesman said Phiyega was working on a response to meet the deadline.

Zuma appointed Phiyega in June 2012, after sacking her predecessor Bheki Cele over the irregular signing of a lease for a new police headquarters worth nearly $100 million.

Like Cele, Phiyega did not have police experience, having previously served as a non-executive board member at the local unit of Barclays and as a senior executive at the state-owned rail-freight firm Transnet.

(This version of the story was refiled to fix name spelling in paragraph 8)

Reporting by Stella Mapenzauswa; Editing by James Macharia and Dominic Evans

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