Marikana: Mpofu and Phiyega cross swords

2013-06-06 18:50
(City Press)

(City Press)

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Pretoria - There was nothing political in the police presence at Lonmin's platinum mine at Marikana, North West, last year, the Farlam Commission of Inquiry heard on Thursday.

This was the submission of national police commissioner Riah Phiyega in response to questions by Dali Mpofu, for miners wounded and arrested during the unrest at Marikana.

Mpofu asked Phiyega at what stage she knew there was an underlying wage dispute at Lonmin's platinum mine.

"I've clearly articulated myself that the unrest could have been because of whatever, but we, as the police, were there because there was an unprotected strike which was violent," she said.

Phiyega said the information she had at the time was the same information that was public knowledge.

She was aware that there were incidents of intimidation, public violence and murder before she went to Marikana.

"I'm going to sound like a scratched record," said Phiyega.

"The reason why police went there was because there was an unprotected strike and violence. I've answered you over and over again," she said.

Mpofu maintained that he would not move away from the point until Phiyega gave an answer.

He said he wanted to prove there was political interference that led to the situation being "decharacterised".

"I'm sorry. I'm not moving away from my question. It forms a crucial part of my case," said Mpofu.

Phiyega responded by saying that she knew there was a matter regarding R12 500.

"Whether it was a wage dispute or anything, I don't know," said Phiyega.

Mpofu questioned Phiyega on whether she believed the situation was a hybrid, wage-related unrest wherein criminal activity then surfaced.

He referred her to a statement by ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa's company, Shanduka, owns shares in Lonmin.

In his statement, Ramaphosa acknowledged having sent an email to Lonmin on 15 August, the day before police fired on striking mineworkers, killing 34 of them.

In the email, Ramaphosa said: "The terrible events that have unfolded cannot be described as a labour dispute. They are plainly dastardly criminal and must be characterised as such. In line with this characterisation there needs to be concomitant action to address the situation."

Mpofu pointed out that on that same day, Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu had called the matter a labour dispute.

President Jacob Zuma later described the situation in a manner that suggested it was a hybrid.

Mpofu questioned Phiyega on what view the police had acted on when they went to Marikana.

Phiyega said the police viewed the matter as a law and order issue.

In response, Mpofu said: "I'm pursuing a leg that says because of a campaign to [make] the characterisation solely a criminal matter, it was to make up for what the [police] minister [Nathi Mthethwa] said. [He said] if it's a criminal matter, use maximum force, if it's not a criminal matter, use minimum force."

Ishmael Semenya, for the police, objected to Mpofu's statement.

He said Mthethwa made those comments in reference to cash-in-transit heists and not the Marikana unrest.

Earlier on Thursday, Mpofu suggested that police might have "misdiagnosed" the situation at Lonmin. If police did not have the correct details of the conflict, they could not have had an accurate plan to resolve it, he said.

"If I can prove at the end that there was a series of misdiagnoses of the situation, then the police's plan was doomed to fail."

Mpofu said police did not appropriately address the situation, as they believed the unrest was largely associated with union rivalry. Workers, however, also wanted higher wages.

The commission, chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam, is investigating the deaths of 44 people killed during the unrest.

Police shot dead 34 striking mineworkers on August 16. Ten people, including two police officers and security guards, were killed in the preceding week.

Read more on:    lonmin  |  police  |  riah phiyega  |  dali mpofu  |  mahikeng  |  marikana inquiry

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