With just over a month to go in the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, two important testimonies have continued this week looking at very different causes of the violence. The mysterious Mr X paints a picture of violent mineworkers who likely forced police to fire as a last resort to save their lives. Mr White, however, looks at how the cops got into the situation in the first place and even then, was firing live ammunition at the mineworkers really the last resort? By GREG NICOLSON.
The police’s line at the Commission has been fairly consistent. There’s been some division that suggests they’ve tried to protect senior officers or use scapegoats, but their key argument is that individual officers felt their lives were under threat and they used live ammunition on the striking mineworkers when their disperse and disarm plans went awry.
To back this up, they’ve brought in Mr X. For months, we wondered what impact his testimony would have on the inquiry into the 44 people killed in Marikana in the week to 16 August 2012. Even the name “Mr X”, a mineworker who participated in the violence but cannot be identified for fear of reprisals, evokes mystery. Halfway through recounting the events to the 16th, Mr X’s grisly testimony is essential to back up the police claim that the mineworkers were a threat that necessitated live ammunition.
Firstly, Mr X took part in killings and he has chillingly described a level of violent intent and brutality among the mineworkers from the point of an insider. They marched to the NUM offices early on in the strike with the aim of killing its members, he claimed. Mineworker Julius Langa was killed on his way to work without even the chance to say whether he knew a strike was on, Mr X alleged. When the mineworkers told intervening police on the 13th that they weren’t there to fight, it was just to trick the cops, Mr X continued. “We wanted [the police officer] to hurry up and get angry so that they could start shooting,” he was quoted telling the Commission. He also claimed he saw at least three mineworkers with pistols as early as on the 12th, before weapons were reportedly taken from police killed on the 13th.
Tied to the violence is the use of muti. Mr X described how a strike leader allegedly cut the cheeks and chin off security guard Hassan Fundi after he was killed while another protestor put his blood in a plastic bag to give to an inyanga for muti. “They tried shooting, but their guns didn’t work. The guns didn’t work because the inyanga said we would not be shot at because of the rituals we underwent. They fired the bullets but the bullets did not harm us,” SAPA quoted Mr X, who during the Commission blamed tiredness on muti being used against him.
Finally, Mr X has spoken on inter-union rivalry. He was forced to join AMCU, he alleged, as not doing so would have put his life at risk. According to The New Age, he made the extraordinary allegation that AMCU President Joseph Mathunjwa instructed mineworkers to kill NUM members.
Mr X is being led by counsel for the SAPS and his description of strike leaders as having violent intent, being impervious to the fear of death through their use of muti, and locked in an inter-union war fits neatly into the SAPS defence. He still has to be cross-examined and deal with the events of the 16th.
While some mineworkers view him as a traitor and many observers are skeptical at how closely his testimony ties to the police line, Mr X offered a degree of closure for the families of those killed in the days leading up to the 16th as little has been said about how they died.
While his testimony has been about justifying the police’s use of lethal force, public policing expert Gary White has looked at how the SAPS acted in relation to policing policies and their strategies and tactics.
In his first day at the Commission on Wednesday, White, who has been recognised for his 30 years of experience in policing in volatile Northern Ireland, was scathing. The key issues he looked at were intelligence, planning, briefing of officers, command and control of issues, tactics and accountability. So far he has spoken on the operations on the 13th, when two police officers were killed after North West Deputy Police Commissioner William Mpembe led an attempt to disarm the mineworkers, then escort them, and the events at scene one on the 16th.
On the 13th, heavily armed police confronted heavily armed miners. After reading the police statements, White found they had very little intelligence information, but what they did have suggested the miners were unlikely to hand over their weapons. Firstly, he said there was little evidence to suggest Mpembe properly briefed the police (the deputy commissioner has claimed he did). Secondly, White said there wasn’t evidence of a backup plan. “It’s about clearly thinking about the what ifs. As a police officer, this is what they pay you for,” said White.
The decision to confront the mineworkers on the 16th was “a hugely questionable decision” said White. There was little intelligence information but police knew the situation was dangerous. “All the more reason to think about, ‘Is this a good idea?’ […] I would have thought the decision then would be to hold on a bit.”
White, who was led by the Michelle Le Roux for the SA Human Rights Commission, found it highly questionable that the Public Order Policing (POP) unit wasn’t involved in crafting the “tactical phase” plan. The idea was to roll out the razor wire in front of the koppie, have a front line of POP members with non-lethal weapons, and then a team of 60 Tactical Response Team (TRT) officers with live ammunition that would “engage proportionately” if necessary.
“At what point did someone say, ‘Let’s just be clear here – what are we asking the TRT to do?’” asked White. “’What is the position we are putting these police officers in? What do we think they are going to do?’” Once again, available intelligence suggested the mineworkers would resist being disarmed, so it would have been likely that the TRT would have had to engage.
The force used, said White, was excessive and possibly reckless. “The reason the police officer should be firing is to stop the threat. It’s not necessarily about killing someone. It’s basically, ‘This is a threat to my life. Here’s how it manifests, be it a spear, a gun, whatever it is, and therefore I am shooting to protect my life. I am shooting to neutralise the threat.’” White empathised with the dangers the police were facing, but criticised the TRT for shooting hundreds of rounds at the miners while the threat may have already been neutralised and officers may not have been able to see what they were shooting at, raising the risk of collateral damage.
After the shootings, White said the officers had a moral and legal obligation to provide accurate evidence of what happened but the accountability just wasn’t there. Some officers changed their statements, initially claiming to have fired fewer rounds, then raising that figure. Others said they did not shoot, but they didn’t say whether those next to them did. Some simply said they couldn’t say exactly how many rounds they shot because their firearms were on automatic. White said he couldn’t think of any justifiable reason to have weapons on automatic and every single shot should be justified.
Essentially, White’s testimony criticised the planning and communication of the operation that put the TRT members in confrontation with the miners. “What were they doing there? Why were they in the configuration they were in and did that play a part in doing what the officers did?”
Mr X will continue his testimony on Friday, with police hoping he can justify claims that officers used their weapons as a last resort while under attack from violent miners who thought they were invincible. White continues his testimony on Thursday, questioning the plan that put the officers there in the first place and whether each bullet really was used as a last resort. DM
Photo: South African police check the bodies of striking mineworkers shot dead at the Wonderkop informal settlement near Marikana platinum mine, Rustenburg, South Africa, 16 August 2012. EPA/STR
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