Marikana: Only exhumation can give family closure

2014-11-16 06:00

After two gruelling years at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry, Lanford Gcotyelwa still does not know how his cousin Thembelakhe Mati died – was it a stabbing or a shooting.

It was revealed this week that the circumstances under which Mati died are still disputed. The SAPS lawyers will not accept that he was shot by police on August 13 2012.

Gcotyelwa has sat at the commission every day just to find the truth.

In 2012, three days before the 34 miners were gunned down, the strikers were stopped by police as they were returning from one of the shafts. They were carrying knobkerries, machetes and spears.

North West deputy police commissioner William Mpembe asked them to leave their weapons behind but they refused, saying they were protecting themselves from National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) members.

The miners finally walked off but a few minutes later, teargas was thrown, followed by a stun grenade. This led to the chaos which left two police officers hacked to death and two miners dead. One of the two was Mati. His body was found near a shack; he had bled to death.

The cause of his death was unknown until the first post-mortem report was completed on August 16 2012. The state pathologist stated that Mati had died of a stab wound to his right thigh and he had bled to death.

“Black adult male with a history of gunshot injuries. Stab wound of right lower buttock. Stab wound of right femoral artery and vein” reads the report.

Three weeks later, he was buried in the Eastern Cape village of Ntabankulu.

As the Commission began its work in 2012, the police denied responsibility for the death of Mati. They argued that he was killed by the miners because he was not part of the strike.

But when Mpembe was shown video footage in which Mati can be seen with the strikers at the railway line, the police admitted that Mati was a striker.

“The next question was ‘does he have a stab or gunshot wound’. We said that it doesn’t matter if he was stabbed or shot, it was done by the police because we have proven that he was part of the strikers. But that was not good enough for the Mati family so we had to find out what had really happened to him,” said Teboho Mosikili from the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri).

Seri found a second pathologist to re-examine the first post-mortem report.

“He came back with an inconclusive result saying that he was not too sure or couldn’t safely conclude either way. But he thinks it was a stab wound. He said for him to know certainly he would have to have the body exhumed and the family agreed,” said Mosikili.

Before the exhumation, Seri found a third pathologist who tore apart the first report saying that the report was “exceedingly scanty”.

“The wounds are perforating in type, passing through the limb completely. The features are, in my opinion confidently that of a gunshot wound through the thigh, and not a stab wound. The photographs alone do not allow for a confident distinction between entry and exit wounds,” reads the third autopsy report.

Finally, the family thought they had received closure. In August this year when the families were given time to address the commission, Gcotyelwa, Mati’s cousin, asked retired Judge Ian Farlam if the matter had been finalised.

Farlam said: “That allegation (stabbing) is no longer persisted in and it’s been reported to us by the evidence leaders that he was shot. So the previous story that he’d been stabbed… by fellow workers - that’s no longer being persisted in, so you don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

But on Tuesday, Gcotyelwa was shocked to hear that he still had reason to worry. As Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, lawyer for the families, was presenting his final oral arguments, Advocate Ishamel Semenya said that SAPS was not accepting that Mati was shot.

“No we are not conceding, it’s not common cause that it was a shot wound,” said Semenya.

Gcotyelwa said this has opened up a wound he and his family thought was healing.

“This has been very difficult for the family. We will exhume his body just to know the truth about what killed him. I don’t know why the police are playing this game. When I addressed the commission I was told everything was sorted. He had been shot,” said Gcotyelwa.

The family’s presentation stated that they were attending the inquiry to discover the truth about how people were killed.

Farlam suggested that the report must be sent to the original pathologist for comment. But this is little consolation to the only family at the commission which does not conclusively know how their loved one died.

Phuti Setati, spokesperson for the commission, said that he would not comment on the situation and that the commission should be given time to go through the evidence and make its findings.

Farlam is expected to hand over his recommendations to President Jacob Zuma by the end of March 2015. The Mati family will have to wait until then to finally get closure.

» Mati left behind his wife, six children, his mother and three sisters. He was the sole breadwinner.

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