Police chief may rue her outburst
National police commissioner Riah Phiyega may soon have to count the cost of giving the police officers involved in the Marikana shooting her wholehearted support. She was just days into her job when police opened fire, in controversial circumstances, on striking workers at Lonmin's mine.
As the full scale of the tragedy became apparent, and many people based their interpretation of what had happened on television footage, Phiyega immediately jumped to defend her officers.
She explained: "The militant group stormed towards the police, firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons. Police retreated systematically and were forced to utilise maximum force to defend themselves." But as what happened comes under closer examination, she may find that those words come back to haunt her, and could determine her future in the post.
As the shootings unfolded, Phiyega found herself in an unenviable position. She was not a police officer, and had no background in policing until President Jacob Zuma appointed her to head the police service.
His decision had already been criticised, with claims that it was a political appointment with no view to improving policing.
The last police officer appointed to the post, George Fivaz (who was commissioner from 1995 until 2000) has sympathy for Gen Phiyega's position.
"In a situation like this," he says, "you're basically in the hands of the gods." He points out that she was not there herself, and thus is taking over a situation mid-stream.
"To say that they acted one hundred percent (as they should have), maybe any human being would have done the same, how else could you get out of the corner?"
He asks what would have happened to police morale if she had "acted like (Springbok rugby coach) Heyneke Meyer and said she was bitterly disappointed as the police had failed the nation".
It appears understandable that anyone in her position would have realised that one way to buy legitimacy with the officers would be to take this stance.
As a new appointee, it is unlikely Phiyega would have been able to influence how the police behaved at the scene. Indeed, even after the shooting, she may not have known enough about police procedure and internal processes to change the tactics that were being used.
However, the Farlam Commission will now investigate the role of the police.
Fivaz says the root of the problem lies in the lack of "police training and equipment" and that "it was not only the miners who were emotional that day".
The police officers knew two of their colleagues had been hacked to death, and it appears officers could be criticised by the commission.
That would lead to questions about the wisdom of Phiyega's earlier comments.
While politically she could argue that she was doing the right thing in defending her officers, publicly, that could lead to questions about whether she is competent to continue in the position.
She will be asked why she made public pronouncements in the first place, possibly without much information about what had happened.
However, it appears the root of why she behaved in this way relates to her perceived lack of legitimacy among serving police officers.
If Zuma had appointed a senior police officer, with a long track record, to this post, that person would have felt under less pressure to make these comments.
They would have had a better understanding of the circumstances on the ground, even if they had not been present during the incident itself.
They would not have jumped to make what could be a mistake that damages the rest of Phiyega's tenure in the police service.
Thus Zuma himself may bear ultimate responsibility.