TURNING POINTS OP-ED
Marikana massacre mapped — why Brigadier Adriaan Calitz must face justice
The police killed 34 mineworkers at Marikana 10 years ago, but which police were responsible for this ‘dastardly criminal’ act? This account highlights the role of the operational commander, Brigadier Adriaan Calitz.
One disappointing aspect of the recent coverage of the Marikana massacre was the absence of serious discussion about what actually happened. This is especially important because, 10 years on, we have a younger generation who do not have a clue about the event, and, moreover, there is still a significant section of the older public that remains confused.
Part of the problem is that TV is the most influential medium and its impact is determined by brevity and visual imagery. With Marikana, this has meant anachronistic photomontage and rehashed shots of Scene 1, which are just as baffling for most people now as they were in 2012.
Those who have followed the debate will know that the decision to use the “tactical option” (deadly force) was made the evening before the massacre, at a meeting of the National Management Forum (NMF), that is, the whole to the top echelon of the South African Police Service (SAPS), including the then national commissioner, General Riah Phiyega, and Lieutenant-General Mirriam Mbombo, provincial commissioner in North West, where the massacre occurred. They will also be aware that 17 of the 34 strikers who died on 16 August were shot at Scene 2, where, as the Marikana Commission’s evidence leaders summarised, there “was a paramilitary operation, with the aim of annihilating those who were perceived as the enemy”. But these events were not televised.
This article attempts to shed light on what occurred at Scene 1, the best-known and most contentious moment in the tragedy. It does so with two graphics: a photograph and a diagram. The former comes directly from the commission’s archives (see here for a more complete collection of exhibits). The latter and my narrative are derived from documents in the archive, in particular, an animated presentation submitted by the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) which is available on YouTube and well worth watching. Some of my account was published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Southern African Studies, but I have added further details and links to go with them.
The police killed all 34 workers, but which police were responsible for this “dastardly criminal” act? My account highlights the role of the operational commander, Brigadier Adriaan Calitz. In my view, conclusions reached by the Marikana Commission of Inquiry misconstrued critical evidence, including statements and testimony from Calitz himself.
The photograph shows the battle site at Marikana and was taken soon before 15.43:56 (43 minutes and 56 seconds after 3 pm) on 16 August 2012, about 10 minutes before the massacre. It looks westwards, so north is on the right. It can be compared with the map underneath.
In the foreground, there are police vehicles, mostly white, gathered in a “safe zone” In the middle of this there are two queues of officers lined up south to north, one short and the other longer. These are probably members of the Tactical Response Teams (TRTs). (This animated presentation uses a zoom function to make details clearer.)
Above the “safe zone” (to the west), the main feature is Koppie 1 and, to its right, a smaller koppie (Koppie 2). It is possible to make out a compact group of strikers huddled together between the two, but closer to Koppie 1 and nearer the camera. There are some strikers leaving Koppie 1, and others who are walking towards their homes in Nkaneng and Wonderkop along a track to the right of the police.
Between the strikers and the safe zone there is a line of five police Nyalas deployed to lay razor wire. At this point, the southernmost Nyala, Nyala 1 has almost finished its job, and Nyala 2, the next one along, is yet to set off. In practice, only four of the Nyalas were used, and a sixth had already been removed from the line.
On the right of the photograph, to the north of the police and the track, the dark quadrangle is a kraal, in front of which the massacre would occur.
At the very top of the photograph, behind Koppie 2, one can see the low-lying Koppie 3, where the Scene 2 killings took place.
There is no evidence of strikers confronting the police, either at this point or later (except for an isolated incident involving one Nyala and a few strikers). Given the numbers and power of armed might in the vicinity, any attack by the strikers would have been foolhardy. It is unfortunate that reporters had their cameras directed at the strikers, not the police.
Now we turn to the diagram. The green lines show routes taken by strikers.
The “lead group” of strikers, comprising those from the compact huddle and some from the Small Koppie, set off at 15.48:30. There were well over 100 of them and they included Mgcineni Noki (the “man in the green blanket”). The razor wire was still behind them (to the south) and there was no sign of the TRT line. Like others before them, the strikers were almost certainly heading for the track to Nkaneng. Noki had told his comrades not to run “because they had done nothing wrong”, and all footage shows them walking slowly, some crouched low. At 15.52:03, Nyala 4, with razor wire in tow, sped past them, reached the kraal, and blocked their way to the track.
The strikers were now forced to swing northwards. The TRT line was beginning to form, but not in sight, and Noki began to circle the kraal with the probable aim of returning to the track. At 15.53:30, just 20 seconds before the lethal volley, non-lethal weapons, starting with a stun grenade, were used for the first time. Noki and others at the front were about to round the northeast corner, but most strikers were stretched out behind, many of them west of the kraal (see also KKK 52). The group split. The majority, those to the rear, were able to retreat (some to Scene 2).
The minority, about 38 of them, were trapped. Police vehicles to the north and east of this front group could have been used to block their advance. Instead, they created a funnel, channelling them towards the TRT line. Stun grenades, tear gas, rubber rounds and, eventually, shotgun pellets are fired from behind and the side, forcing the group forwards. They run, but they are running from a barrage of blasts, gas and bullets, not attacking the police, as TV footage seems to show.
A few try to take cover at the edge of the kraal. The remainder of those still moving forward, a group of only 12, including Noki, head towards the line of 60 heavily armed police, who, as the evidence leaders put it, were “effectively operating as a firing squad”.
At 15.53:50, about 50 members of the TRT opened fire simultaneously. They were using R5 assault rifles designed to kill or seriously wound, and capable of automatic fire.
According to the SAPS, 328 rounds of live ammunition were used at Scene 1. Nine members of the Noki group were killed, each within 18-25m of the shooters. Four of the kraal-edge group were killed. All 13 were shot multiple times, including to the upper parts of their body. Another four people died from R5 bullets that hit them between 45 and 250m from the nearest point on the TRT line.
There is no doubt that Noki and other strikers in the front group were channelled towards the firing line and were killed by members of the TRT. Calitz described the positioning of his vehicles as a “perfekte blok” (perfect block).
Calitz and the ‘perfect block’
The SAPS concept plan was revised during the day of the massacre, 16 August (see Evidence Leaders p. 326). It had three main objectives:
- Protect police and journalists from attack.
- Disperse strikers in a westerly direction, breaking them into smaller, disorganised groups.
- Disarm and arrest.
To this end, the razor wire would be reeled out using the five Nyalas simultaneously; northwards movement would be blocked using various vehicles and deterrents, forcing strikers westwards on open ground; and additional forces would be brought in from behind the massive power station to the south, where they were hidden.
This “plan” was a rushed affair. It was approved by top officers at 1.30pm, when a decision to move to the tactical phase was agreed on without Calitz being present. The chief planner, Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan Scott, briefed him and other commanders as late as 2.30pm. An important shortcoming was that, according to Public Order Police (POP) officers responsible for reeling out the wire, the Nyalas would have to move consecutively, not simultaneously, slowing the process. Vital tactical aspects of the so-called plan were abandoned.
The evidence leaders blamed the tragedy at Scene 1 on these shortcomings, but this minimises the importance of operational decisions. In practice, Calitz decided what happened, which was not the plan, with its map, but choices made in the field. By 2012, Calitz already had a long and distinguished career. He joined the police in 1987, gained 20 years of public order policing experience, won medals, and was the North West head of the Operational Response Services, which included POP, TRT and other responsibilities (see here and here). From my reading of his evidence, he knew what he was doing, even if this was not what some lawyers, experts and police officers thought he should be doing. He had his own rationale.
Calitz was not fazed by the barbed wire roll-out problem, explaining that it would be uncommon for a crowd to “break around a barbed wire barrier while that barrier is being rolled out”. As we have seen, on this issue he was right. To be on the safe side, he also had five Nyalas — so-called Papa Nyalas, not the Nyalas responsible for the razor wire — positioned opposite the strikers (as can be seen in the photograph). Moreover, as the lead group moved around the kraal, he used his Papa Nyalas and heavily armoured Casspirs to block and disperse a large majority of them, doing so in a single manoeuvre, making effective use of stun grenades in particular.
But Calitz could have acted differently. He could have delayed the roll-out or moved his vehicles more quickly, making it possible for the police — including their water cannon — to disperse the lead group westwards, as intended in Scott’s plan. Alternatively, he could have stopped the strikers in the front group from running into the TRT line. He had ample vehicles in the safe zone and/or could have moved some of the Nyalas around the kraal to achieve this, or he could have ceased firing from behind and alongside the group, or he could have decided not to use the TRT line at all, or to have placed it further back, giving the front group an opportunity to turn in the direction of Nkaneng (if they were still conscious after the salvo). He could not, or would not, offer an explanation for the crescent formation.
It is reasonable to assume that Calitz, as the operational commander, allowed matters to unfold as they did, because that is what he wanted. It was a perfekte blok.
‘TRT, move in’
The senior officer nearest the massacre was Captain Paul Loest, the TRT commander responsible for forming the basic line. At a briefing “on the scene”, Calitz told him he would receive an order to do so, and Loest’s superior, Lieutenant-Colonel Little Joe Classen, heard Calitz say over the radio: “TRT, move in.” Loest testified that, prior to this, he had relayed Calitz’s instruction that “each member would have to act on his own if he felt threatened, that he would act in self-defence”. This would have prepared the TRT for shooting strikers and exonerated them in advance for doing so.
However, Calitz did not wait for his men to act on their own initiative, he gave a command to fire. The evidence here comes from Dirk Botes, a Lonmin security risk manager present in the Joint Operations Centre, who testified that he heard Calitz on the radio calling: “Engage, engage, engage.” When asked about the time lapse between this order and the first shooting, Botes responded: “Basically, immediately.” This immediacy is important, because the POP officers were already engaging, so the order must have been directed at the TRT. In the circumstances, “engage” could only mean one thing: shoot. Calitz not only set the trap, he also triggered its release.
There is disagreement about the extent to which the shooters themselves were culpable, and, if they were, whether they could be found guilty given that R5 bullets tend to disintegrate. These are not matters requiring discussion here.
Final links in the slaughter
Regarding Calitz, the commission rejected the possibility of “intentionality”. This, they reasoned, would have required a conspiracy, and the evidence leaders’ investigations were sufficiently thorough to have revealed one, had it existed. They held that the generally haphazard execution of the operation on 16 August “does not suggest a capacity seamlessly to put together a crescent formation of armoured vehicles at precisely the right time and place to channel strikers into a fusillade of TRT fire”.
This argument, though, does not rebut the case presented here and in the conclusions of lawyers representing the families and injured and arrested miners. The “plan” and Calitz’s deeds and testimony were separate matters. We can be confident that he was personally responsible for the final links in the slaughter: the shape of vehicles around the kraal, the firepower used by POP, and the fatal deployment of the TRT.
One may wonder why the commission reached a different conclusion. Probably part of the answer is that the SAHRC’s animation, which was vital objective evidence, was presented in the 23rd week of the commission’s hearing, so that, as the SAHRC (p. 347) claimed, the SAPS had 22 weeks to present a false case. Rightly, it urged the commission to ask itself: “How might the … process have differed if the synchronised and chronological video and photographic evidence was shown at the start, rather than the end, of the … hearings?”
It wanted the commission to reject the SAPS’s defence, which, very largely, it did. However, the SAHRC’s logic could also be applied to the line that was doubtless emerging in the minds of the evidence leaders and commissioners. The animation provided additional evidence that Calitz was directly responsible for the Scene 1 killings. (By not aborting the plan, he was also indirectly responsible for Scene 2, but that’s another matter.)
What’s striking about Calitz’s testimony and later statements is that, notwithstanding his actions being linked to 17 deaths, he did not acknowledge personal mistakes or ways in which he would have acted differently with the benefit of hindsight.
‘Exactly how we planned it’
The implication is that he felt his actions were in line with decisions of the NMF, which were communicated to, among others, Major-General Charl Annandale, the overall commander on 16 August, and Major-General Ganasen Naidoo, the deputy provincial commissioner. It is implausible that Annandale did not communicate with Calitz about what was expected of him. There were two telephone exchanges involving Naidoo and Calitz in the morning, and another two just before the massacre, at 15.49:54 lasting 119 seconds and at 15.53:31 lasting 12 seconds (see Exhibit MMM 4).
Assuming these times tally with those for video footage, Calitz and Naidoo were in contact just seven seconds before the TRT shootings commenced. This is astonishing. To the best of my knowledge, the contents and significance of these communications have not been aired.
Briefing his troops two days after the massacre, Calitz told them: “From the planning to the execution was 110%. Exactly how we planned it — and it is not often this happens in this large group.” To exonerate Calitz, it would be necessary to show that this claim, and his “perfekte blok” comment, were not intended to be taken seriously, but there is no suggestion that this was the case.
In pursuit of justice and for its own credibility, the National Prosecuting Authority must charge Calitz without delay. DM
Kate Alexander is a professor of sociology at the University of Johannesburg
Other publications about Marikana by the author:
Kate Alexander, ‘A decade since the Marikana massacre, a century since the Rand Revolt,’ Daily Maverick, 14 August 2022.
Peter Alexander, ‘Cyril Ramaphosa’s Marikana massacre “apology” is disingenuous and dishonest,’ The Conversation, 11 May 2017.
Peter Alexander, ‘Zuma’s failure to fire Phiyega for role in Marikana beggars belief’, Business Day, 22 February 2017.
Peter Alexander, ‘Marikana Commission of Inquiry: from narratives towards history,’ Journal of Southern African Studies 42(5), 2016.
Peter Alexander, ‘Piketty misses the mark on Marikana’, Daily Maverick, 7 October 2015.
Peter Alexander, ‘AMCU victory is more than just about figures’, Daily Maverick, 29 June 2014.
Peter Alexander, ‘Marikana, turning point in South African history’, Review of African Political Economy 40(138), 2013.
Peter Alexander, Thapelo Lekgowa, Botsang Mmope, Luke Sinwell and Bongani Xezwi, Marikana: A View from the Mountain and a Case to Answer. Johannesburg: Jacana Media. 2012.
See also: Rebecca Davis, ‘Ten years on, the Marikana truth-tellers still carry the weight of what they uncovered’, Daily Maverick, 15 August 2022.