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31 October 2014 23:54 (South Africa)
South Africa

Marikana Commission: Police play their case

  • Greg Nicolson
  • South Africa
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Friday was another chance for the police to tell their Marikana story. The presentation, which won’t be cross-examined in itself, showed both the danger the miners posed and the relentless attempt to confront them. It didn’t answer a single question on the small koppie killings. By GREG NICOLSON.

Protestors had started to surrender at the small koppie by 16:20, read a police compilation of footage from 16 August, adding: “This was unfortunately after police fired live rounds at what they perceived to be threats”. Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan Scott’s evidence of the killings of the workers who fled the main koppie offered little more justification for their deaths. 

Friday at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry started with lengthy footage of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union addressing protestors on the mountain. AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa had promised police that miners would surrender their weapons at 9:00 that morning, but he failed to secure the deal and came to address workers later in the day.

Before Mathunjwa spoke, a mineworker was shown addressing his colleagues. He focused on the R12,500 wage demand, but chillingly finished with a warning to police. “Why are they coming to scare us so that we will die? Everyone at the mine is a soldier. They have already killed us.” Others speakers clearly threatened them.

Mthunjwa spoke to the miners, half pleading, half campaigning for new recruits. He claimed to represent the real interests of the workers. Lonmin management refused to engage in discussions, he said, while urging them to put a stop to the bloodshed he claimed National Union of Mineworkers started. He told the workers they should now weigh their options but not decide lightly.

Mthunjwa suspected there would be bloodshed. During the day he sent an SMS to a police commander: “Since no person is available to give feedback, to we are going back to the employees to inform them that no one is available [sic] we have tried our best without cooperation from anyone [sic] let peace prevail”. As he was leaving, Mthunjwa told journalists they should also leave. 

The shootings started as the police were implementing their campaign to disperse and disarm the protestors. Some of the striking mineworkers rushed the police line of Nyalas and rounded the stretch of barbed wire as it was being erected. The barbed wire was to create a neutral to prevent protestors from attacking media and other police groups while allowing police to disarm and arrest smaller groups. Behind that line were Tactical Response Team (TRT) members with live bullets. 

Scott’s detailed plan showed police were acting under intense pressure to end the protest that day, but in their efforts the attempt to negotiate seems lost. The protesters’ demands, that they meet Lonmin management, were ignored. And no one seems to acknowledge the obvious possibility of chaos arising when ringing in a large group of mineworkers with barbed wire.

Video was shown of the protesters rushing the police lines on multiple occasions as barbed wire was being dragged into place by police Nyalas. There were 533 non-lethal means, such as stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas, used to repel advances, said Scott, but the protestors still got through. There they met the Tactical Response Team, who stepped back while shooting live ammunition. Some officers shot into the ground as warnings. About 100 TRT members fired their weapons over eight seconds and released 284 rounds of sharp ammunition. 

Scott showed media footage of the advancing group featuring a protestor that looked like he was firing a gun. He also showed where bullets hit a Nyala, shots he said came from that Thursday. Two guns were found from the group around the main koppie, and one belonged to an officer murdered on the Monday, said Scott. 

The evidence suggested a bungled operation that perhaps shouldn’t have happened at all. The SAPS clearly thought the mineworkers were highly dangerous, with some practicing muti and many wielding weapons. It did not suggest that police went out to kill the protestors at the main koppie.

Scott’s evidence on what happened next was much more questionable. It seemed as if police chased down the miners from Google Maps. The Lieutenant Colonel repeatedly showed the changing police position as different units surrounded the small koppie. He pointed out 12 incidents where they engaged the protesters. Featuring different units, the dog squad, the National Intervention Unit, the TRT and others, the script was the same: police came into contact with the protestors who charged at them with dangerous weapons – multiple guns were mentioned – and the police fired and killed or wounded the striking workers.

Scott is yet to finish his presentation, but the evidence offered to support these claims is so far laughable. There is next to none. We were shown an image of a gun found at the koppie and some weapons as well as a shaky video of police recorded on a cop’s cell phone that shows police hiding behind rocks and later showing a dead body next to a spear in the field.

In the SAPS presentation the miners are simply numbers. We saw selected copies of footage that supported their claim and were denied the evidence that’s said to be much more extensive. No attempt was made to look at the forensics of each death. How did they die? Where on their body were they shot? What were the exact circumstances of engagement and what do the firing officers have to say? More broadly, why did police immediately move to confront those who fled to the small koppie when they made elaborate plans at the main koppie?

When, or if, the SAPS claims come under cross-examination, we should get a broader picture of what happened. But so far officers have feigned ignorance or memory loss and we’re expected to believe that each of the striking mineworkers killed at the small koppie lost his life after posing a direct threat to the lives of officers. If so, why would police need to later torture and intimidate those involved? 

The Commission resumes next Wednesday. DM

Photo: Police look on as women carry placards in protest against the killing of miners by the South African police outside a South African mine in Rustenburg, 100 km (62 miles) northwest of Johannesburg, August 17, 2012. (REUTERS)

  • Greg Nicolson
  • South Africa


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