A season of Marikana anger

2013-03-17 10:00

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Angry widows express their rage as police commissioner takes to the stand for cross-examination, writes Lucas Ledwaba.

A crude insult rippled from some of the widows of murdered mine workers as police commissioner General Riah Phiyega took the oath before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry on Thursday.

The insult was delivered in a chorus of hushed, angry voices.

The vicious clicking of tongues emphasised its potency.

It is not clear if the women, seated in the second row of the auditorium at the Rustenburg Civic Centre, wanted Phiyega to hear them.

But it is unlikely their hushed voices reached any more ears than those of the press photographers seated before them in the auditorium.

The staccato of clicking cameras, snapping away to capture the long-anticipated moment, may well have drowned out their words of fury.

The widows’ vocal expression of their bitterness, anger and hurt was nothing new. They have directed crude remarks at lawyers representing

the police when they raise an objection or pin down a witness testifying about the violent killing of their husbands and sons.

Not knowing exactly which individual police officers were responsible for killing their husbands, they seem to be channelling their anger at anyone who is on the side of the men in blue.

So it was no surprise that Phiyega became the latest subject of their anger.

In fact, the stage for Phiyega’s tense reception from the families of the 34 mine workers who were shot and killed by police on August 16 last year was set months ago.

It did not help Phiyega’s case that the commission has, several times in the past six months, seen video footage showing her thanking police officers for a job well done in the aftermath of the killings.

Even in her absence, this footage was met with gasps of shock and disgust from the widowed and orphaned, who sometimes break down when watching scenes of their loved ones being mowed down by automatic gunfire.

And it happened again just before Phiyega concluded her evidence-in-chief on Thursday afternoon.

Advocate Ishmael Semenya, a senior counsel representing the police, had spent the better part of Thursday taking the articulate police commissioner through her statement, in which she touched on her academic background, policing issues and, of course, the events at Marikana, outside Rustenburg in North West.

The auditorium had been quiet but tense throughout, until Phiyega started expressing her sympathy for the bereaved families and her regret about the loss of life.

A loud wail tore through the silence, bringing proceedings to a halt.

A woman seated in that second row of grieving and angry widows could take it no more.

It looked like Phiyega’s words had struck the woman with the same venom as the bullets fired by the men under her command.

Her wailing tore through many other hearts, leaving a gloomy despair hanging over the auditorium.

All eyes turned on the woman as she stood to leave the auditorium.

Phiyega paused and looked on, somewhat stunned.

Even when Phiyega resumed reading from her statement moments later, her voice seemed shaky, having lost some of the confident authority and composure she had displayed earlier.

Earlier that day, one of the women from the second row had remarked: “Nx! Her words will never bring back our men.”

»?Phiyega returns to the stand on Tuesday for cross-examination, which is expected to last a few weeks

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