This article examines the relationship between politicians and the police in the days before the shooting by members of the South African Police Service of 34 striking mineworkers at the Marikana platinum mine in South Africa on 16 August 2012. Drawing on evidence presented to the official inquiry into events at Marikana, it argues that political influence over the police may be exercised most effectively when it is least obvious. Instead of issuing directives, or openly exerting pressure on the police, it is suggested that politicians may secure compliance with their wishes when chief officers share their priorities, and act accordingly. The senior officers in command at Marikana did not need to be told what to do. In ordering an intervention that led to 34 deaths they were behaving as conscious political actors attuned to the needs of a dominant elite aligned to the ruling African National Congress.