Marikana grenade use under scrutiny

By Drum Digital
10 September 2013

Evidence leaders at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry have revisited the use of stun grenades on protesting mineworkers at Marikana last year.

On Tuesday, evidence leader Matthew Chaskalson read out the testimony of Brigadier Johann Fritz, who flew over the protesters on the afternoon of August 16, 2012, in a helicopter.

Fritz had said: "I did not know at the time, the name of the person [police officer] who threw the stun grenades from the chopper. I now know that it was the air law enforcement officer (ALEO), Sergeant [Adrianna] Venter.

"I did not instruct that stun grenades be thrown from the chopper. I [only] permitted it when the ALEO told me that her unit had used this method of dispersing crowds very successfully in the past."

Fritz had gone on to say he was not an expert in crowd management.

He was the overall commander of the special task force deployed to the strike-related unrest at Lonmin's platinum mining operations at Marikana, near Rustenburg, in North West, last year.

According to Wikipedia, a stun grenade is a non-lethal explosive device used to temporarily disorient the enemy.

The grenade is designed to produce a blinding flash of light and loud noise without causing permanent injury.

The commission heard that the stun grenades were thrown at protesting mineworkers in an attempt to make them run.

Lt-Col Duncan Scott, who is currently on the witness stand, said in his testimony on Monday that this would have made it easier for the police to ascertain whether the protesters were carrying weapons.

"What I have picked up from colleagues [police officers who were also at Marikana] is that the strikers that were moving off, regrouped and then started walking again," he told the commission.

"The explanation I was given was that stun grenades were used to break up the groups and hopefully to get them to start running. It is [more] difficult to conceal weapons when running than just walking away."

The commission then viewed footage of police officers throwing stun grenades from a helicopter.

Chaskalson said there was little resemblance between what was shown on the video and what Venter had told the commission in a statement.

According to her statement, a group of protesters armed with knobkerries, pangas, and guns stormed the police.

"What I would say is that this is what she is saying. We can't see what she was seeing and it would be very wrong of me to think on her behalf," Scott responded on Monday.

"Obviously, she would need to testify and tell the commission why she was throwing those grenades."

Chaskalson asked whether Scott had been informed about the incident in which the strikers had "stormed members of the SA Police Service".

He replied that he had not heard about it.

The commission, which is sitting in Centurion, is investigating the circumstances surrounding the deaths of 44 people during the unrest at Marikana.

Thirty-four people were shot dead, almost all of them striking mineworkers, on August 16, 2012, while police were trying to disperse them. Ten people, including two policemen and two security officers, were killed in the preceding week.

The public hearings continue.

-Sapa

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