Marikana Commission: Mr X's testimony collapses under cross-examination
What were lawyers for the police thinking when summoning Mr X to the inquiry? Details of the miner's account of the 2012 violence collapsed under cross-examination on Thursday, casting doubt on his whole testimony. Why would the SAPS use this obviously dubious witness? Because behind his sandcastle of events lies questions about who's responsible. And it's not good for Lonmin, the police or the state. By GREG NICOLSON.
“Would you like to smile for us and show us your front teeth?” asked retired judge Ian Farlam on Thursday.
Mr X, the mineworker turned police witness who cannot be named because of threats to his life, was under cross-examination by evidence leader Geoff Budlender, who grilled him on his grisly account of the violent intent of the Marikana mineworkers in 2012, their use of muti, and claims that he was one of the strike leaders.
When led by the SAPS counsel, Mr X helped shift the blame towards the mineworkers, but under Budlender's questioning he was evasive, comical and confused about even even minor details. The star witness has likely defeated the argument he was there to prove – that the mineworkers were intent on killing just about everyone, fuelled by muti, a wage dispute and inter-union rivalry.
Mr X, who accidentally said his own name this week, was shown a number of pictures. In the first, from 13 August 2012, he identified himself among the mineworkers, wearing white overalls and what looks like boots. In the second, we saw the same man in the crowd while North West Deputy Police Commissioner William Mpembe pleads for the mineworkers to hand over their weapons. We zoomed in. The picture blurred, but Mr X's face, screened from an undisclosed location to the Commission, doesn't match the man in the picture. Farlam then asks to see if his teeth match. They don't.
Budlender said there are three reasons Mr X wasn't there on 13 August, when two cops were killed, which Mr X had said was the miners' intention all along. Firstly, he wasn't in the photo. Second, he struggled to recollect the events. Third, he still doesn't know what happened. “I was there,” said Mr X, claiming that as a Lonmin rock drill operator (RDO) he had to be there. But the footage shows only hundreds of what could be a thousand RDOs Lonmin employed.
Mr X's account of the day of 13 August doesn't match the facts. According to his statement from February 2013, he said Mpembe started a countdown but before he finished it, police started shooting. Footage shows, however, that Mpembe's countdown didn't persuade the miners to disarm and instead he agreed to escort them back to the koppie. When police fired teargas on the group, that's when the mayhem began.
Quizzed on these details, Mr X couldn't clarify the matter. He couldn't say what Mpembe counted to, nor did he know how far the mineworkers walked before the fight began. He blamed the statement's misleading comments on the police officer who first took his statement before he went into protective custody, whose first language is Shangaan, not Xhosa. But on Thursday, he still didn't know the correct version of events.
Looking distressed and confused, Mr X often made the Commission chuckle or gasp with his responses. He was shown a picture from 15 August, taken by Daily Maverick's Greg Marinovich. The elected strike committee was meeting in front of the koppie and Mr X pointed himself out (his face couldn't be seen in the photograph), meaning he was part of the core group of leaders. Yet in an image of the same scene taken by police minutes later where a man can be seen in the same clothes, blanket hung from the same shoulder, but now standing up, Mr X denied it was him. “Now I'm suffering from a headache,” he claimed, avoiding the inquisition. The man who other mineworkers believe was in the picture was said to be seated in the Commission.
“You may have been a footsoldier but you claim to be a general,” Budlender had accused. “I want to suggest that you have made a false statement that you were one of the leaders elected by the workers so as to exaggerate your importance.”
The evidence leader's claim that Mr X is lying came after he tied himself in too many knots. Five men were elected to speak to the employer, said Mr X, claiming that he was one of them. However, his own account described five men, none of whom were him. “Are you Bhele?” asked Budlender, referencing one of the men he said were elected a leader.
“No, I'm Mr X.” Mr X was none of the other men he previously said were elected in the top five. It took a good hour, but he continued to unravel his claim that he was a leader of the striking mineworkers.
There are more discrepancies. Mr X said the mineworkers resolved to kill the police because they were in the way of the R12,500 demand, but the cops had said they would arrange a meeting with management. “So the reason you give for the alleged decision to attack police makes no sense because they weren't obstructing your demands,” said Budlender.
Then there are the clothes. The first pictures in which Mr X identified himself shows him in overalls and what looks like boots. Later he's in jeans, a black top and shoes. According to his own testimony, he couldn't change clothes for seven days after taking muti. Mr X claims he was wearing the clothes under his overalls and what initially looked like boots were actually shoes with socks tucked into his overalls. He was also confused about which mines the other elected leaders came from. He couldn't even name those from his own section.
By discrediting himself as a witness, Mr X casts doubt on his whole testimony and has further injured the position of the police. In their opening presentation in November 2012, the SAPS painted a picture where they were stuck in an unusual strike, one where mineworkers were bent on violence and because they had used muti they thought they couldn't be killed if they attacked the police.
After looking at Mr X's statements, Daily Maverick's Greg Marinovich concluded that “it seems that Mr X’s testimony is one that suits the police’s version of the context of the strike. It paints the strikers as murderous and in thrall to morbid witchcraft practices – with ingredients made from body parts of those they allegedly killed on the 12th. He claims he is a key witness, and participant, to several murders, and plans to commit murder.”
At the Commission, while being led by the SAPS counsel, Mr X backed his statements by describing horrible murders, cutting people up for muti, and the miners' plans to murder almost everyone else – all while fingering the union AMCU in the process. Quite a feat.
It's a fact the miners were violent, killing non-striking workers, two security guards, and two policemen, but after Mr X's capitulation under cross-examination his inferences that they caused the violence must be viewed with extreme caution. Watching him on Thursday, one wonders whether Dali Mpofu's application that he undergo a medical examination should have been accepted. But the police put him up there, the Commission agreed, and now the SAPS's version of events looks even more doubtful than before the evidence tampering and hiding emerged.
Mr X was a diversion. Whether we believe his account or not, he provided information on specific individuals doing ghastly things, but the mineworkers he talks about never had the power to control their own environment, even while committing crimes.
Now that Mr X has been discredited, we must look to the real power brokers and those trained to protect who instead killed. Why didn't Lonmin meet with the mineworkers about their wage demands even after 10 people were killed? What influence might have ANC power brokers Cyril Ramaphosa, Nathi Mthethwa and Susan Shabangu had on the provincial police commissioner's decision to insist the strike be broken that Thursday, even when the timing for such an action was poor? Who was responsible for insisting on the police plan to disperse and disarm, which an eight-year-old could have predicted would cause deaths? And did the cops, traumatised by their fallen comrades, go to the second koppie to shoot people in cold blood?
The Commission adjourned on Thursday when Mr X faced difficult questions and suddenly announced he had a funeral to go to and mourning procedure to follow. These questions might be put to former police minister Nathi Mthethwa when the Commission resumes on 14 July. Mr X will be back after that, before Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa appears on 29 July. DM
- Marikana Commission: Sowing the killing fields, in Daily Maverick;
- Will Marikana's Mr X be a game changer? in Daily Maverick;
- Marikana Massacre: The first of Lonmin's voices are heard, in Daily Maverick.
Photo: Lonmin employees gather on a hill called Wonderkop at Marikana, August 15, 2012. (Greg Marinovich)