Lawyer questions use of elite police units

2012-11-19 22:47
Riot police (Picture: AFP)

Riot police (Picture: AFP)

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Rustenburg - Using a specialised police unit for crowd management during a wage impasse at Lonmin’s platinum operation in Marikana, North West, was questioned at a Farlam Commission hearing on Monday.

This was not the purpose of the national intervention unit (NIU), said Dali Mpofu, acting for more than 300 people arrested and injured after an 16 August 16 shooting.

He told the Farlam Commission there were standing police orders prohibiting the dispatching of the elite unit to crowd management assignments.

The commission is holding public hearings in Rustenburg, North West, as part of its inquiry into the deaths of 34 people when police opened fire on striking miners on 16 August in Marikana.

Another 78 people were wounded in the shooting and scores were arrested afterwards.

Mpofu questioned police training co-ordinator Brigadier Petrus Breytenbach on the rationale behind the deployment of several police units, including the tactical response team (TRT) and the special task force (STF), to quell the protests.

"If the public order policing unit is the section that should be in overall command of the scene, wouldn’t it be fair to then say the TRT had no role to play [at Marikana]? They were not needed?"

In response, Breytenbach said the various police units had overlapping roles during unrest, depending on their deployments.

"I have explained over the overlapping responsibilities of the units. The TRT can assist the POP [public order policing] members or the NIU. If whoever is in control sees it [fit], that’s how it goes," he said.


Earlier, Breytenbach told the three-member commission that members of the public order policing unit were the specialised division which was primarily trained to focus on handling crowds.

He said other units, such as the NIU, the STF and the TRT - which were also dispatched to the troubled Marikana region on 16 August - were not specifically trained to handle volatile crowds.

Breytenbach became a police officer in 1985.

Mpofu asked him if he knew about a specialised unit during apartheid, known as the internal stability unit.

After responding positively, Breytenbach was asked to state which police unit played the same role as that of the internal stability unit.

"I don’t think there is a mirror image of that unit in the [current day] SA Police Service. Roles of police have been refined over the years, but I think it may be the TRT, POP and the NIU," said Breytenbach.

Mpofu said there were standing orders indicating that members of a police unit should not act independently, but had to act on instructions given by a commander based at a joint operation centre.

Breytenbach said even though they were members of a unit, police officers could act out of their own will.

Earlier this month, another senior policeman Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Scott outlined to the commission a massive police deployment plan for 16 August.

The plan involved a total of 630 police officers who were deployed to the volatile Marikana region before the shooting of the 34 protesting miners.

The full operational deployments summarised by Scott included the positioning of Nyalas, the placing of barbed wire, and the involvement of the dog unit, mounted unit, and the air wing.

An SA Air Force helicopter was on stand-by in Pretoria. The plan included detectives, medical personnel, a fire engine and ambulances, Scott said.

The inquiry continues.

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