Of mortal duels and an unexpected lawyer
It was a week of two distinct halves for the SA Police Service at the Marikana commission of inquiry.
When the commission began last month, Advocate Ishmael Semenya SC used his opening statement to describe Lonmin mine workers who gathered on a koppie on August 16 as “armed, with dangerous weapons, sabre-rattling, with an intent to engage the police in a mortal duel”.
But on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday this week, it was the police who emerged as the aggressors.
Evidence led on these three days suggested the police have a prima facie case “of defeating the ends of justice” to answer, Advocate George Bizos SC told the commission.
Then on Thursday and Friday, the police hit back.
They presented evidence that showed the mutilated bodies of security guards, police and civilians who were allegedly killed by the miners.
They also showed photographs of the mineworkers stripped naked near the koppie, undergoing a ritual which they apparently believed would make them invincible and brave.
During his presentation on Thursday and Friday, the police’s Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Scott described a conversation which he said took place before the shooting on August 16 which left 34 miners dead.
Scott said that Mgcineni Noki, one of the leaders of the strike – also known as “the man in the green blanket” – told police they were all going to die and that none of their vehicles would make it out of the area.
“These hippos will not leave this place and you will all die today,” Noki is alleged to have said while standing in front of a police Nyala speaking to a police negotiator identified as a Lieutenant Colonel McIntosh.
Noki is alleged to have also told McIntosh, after the protestors refused to disperse: “We can sign a paper so the world can see how we kill one another today.”
The police did not provide any audio or video proof of Noki’s comments.
The biggest surprise of the week also involved the police.
On Thursday morning, Advocate Lindi Nkosi-Thomas SC introduced herself to the commission, saying she was representing Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa.
Mthethwa’s spokesperson Zweli Mnisi said on Friday that Mthethwa had joined the commission after issues arose there “that have oversight and policy implications”.
He said Mthethwa appointed Nkosi-Thomas “so that she can specifically look at these issues”.
Mnisi said Nkosi-Thomas’ sudden appointment was not influenced “by the alleged evidence that is currently being given by SAPS members in so far as it relates to ‘tampering of evidence’”.
He said Nkosi-Thomas would not be interfering or participating in the current legal arguments, but was there to focus on the possible policy and oversight implications.