Police ‘aggravated’ Marikana situation
The police’s plan to disperse a group of more than 3 000 striking Lonmin mineworkers in August has come under serious scrutiny at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.
Evidence leader Advocate Geoff Budlender has told the commission that police triggered events that unfolded on the afternoon of August 16 by deploying barbed wire at the koppie where a group of more than 3 000 of the workers were gathered.
Budlender said this may have given some of the gathered mineworkers the impression that they were being encircled and were in danger, which could have made some of them move towards the informal settlement where they live.
Police have said in their evidence that an armed group of the protesters had attempted to break through the line they were setting up with barbed wire on three occasions, which eventually led to the shooting that left 34 dead.
Police evidence has revealed that their plan, drawn up on August 14, entailed using barbed wire to stop the protesters from charging towards them and journalists gathered there, dispersing them into smaller groups to make it easier to disarm and arrest them.
However, in what appears to be a move that will do more damage than good for the police case in the commission, SA Police Services lawyer Advocate Ishmael Semenya SC on Wednesday introduced Brigadier Zephania Mkhwanazi to testify on their behalf.
Mkhwanazi told the commission he had been with the police since 1986 and had worked extensively in riot and public order policing, where he had also been in charge of training.
But it soon emerged that Mkhwanazi had not been involved in either the planning or execution of the police operations in Marikana in August.
In fact, it is even doubtful if the top cop had ever set foot there.
Lawyers representing some of the parties, including Lonmin and the victims of the August 16 shooting, objected to some of Semenya’s questions, saying they were hypothetical and could not be regarded as evidence.
Mkhwanazi, throughout his cross examination by Budlender, appeared to be non-committal and careful not to criticise his colleagues who had been part of the planning and execution of the plan that went wrong when 34 people were mowed down on August 16.
However, he conceded that one of the failures of the police plan was that police officers had not been issued with gas masks to ward off the effects of teargas.
The hearing continues.
Lucas Ledwaba in Rustenburg