Marikana cops had a 'peaceful solution'

2013-06-10 22:53
(Picture: AFP)

(Picture: AFP)

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Pretoria - The police joint operational co-ordinating committee (Joccom) discussed and adopted a plan to prevent striking Lonmin mineworkers from gathering on a hill at Marikana armed, the Farlam Commission of Inquiry heard on Monday.

"After discussions at JOC [a joint operations centre established at the mine] we came up with a plan," North West deputy police chief Major General William Mpembe said.

Mpembe told the commission, sitting in Centurion, that the initial plan to cordon off the hill, then search and disarm those on it, was rejected because it was not feasible, and there were not enough resources to implement the plan.

He said the Joccom adopted a strategy to negotiate a "peaceful solution", to saturate the area with police officers, and to engage and negotiate with protesters, mine management, and unions.

"The Joccom was of the view to continue negotiations so the problem could be solved using non-tactical methods," Mpembe explained.

"We decided not to disarm the strikers, because if we did police would be seen to be not negotiating in good faith."

He said the striking mineworkers were in possession of police radios and could hear what police were communicating internally, which put the officers at risk of being attacked.

"To disarm them during the day was a risk."

Negotiating

Mpembe said he was tasked with negotiating with Lonmin's management.

"Management at the mine assisted in identifying the strikers," he said.

The mine requested police to remain quiet about their assistance, and not tell the unions, to protect management.

He said the minutes of the JOC meeting could not be found.

Earlier, the commission saw two different videos from 13 August, when striking Lonmin mineworkers turned on police and hacked two officers to death.

Mpembe told the commission there was a gap in the video footage taken by police.

"There is a gap, the camera could not work from a distance," he said during his evidence-in-chief.

Police officers Tsietsi Monene and Sello Lepaku were hacked to death on 13 August as police escorted a group of about 200 strikers to a hill where more strikers had gathered.

Mpembe said the video camera used by police to shoot the footage was old.

Once the officer operating the camera started to move on foot to follow the mineworkers, a mechanical fault occurred and the video went blank.

The officer climbed into a police vehicle to continue recording.

Gap in recording

Commission chairperson, retired Judge Ian Farlam, questioned Mpembe on the timeframe of the gap as well as the events that unfolded during the gap.

The movement of the people and also the shooting of a stun grenade happened, Mpembe replied.

He was not good at estimating time, but said the stun grenade and teargas were shot shortly after the disruption in the recording.

In the first clip, the group of armed men were seen crouching as they walked, while clicking their weapons against each other and on the ground to make a noise, and ululating before they attacked the officers.

"One could not understand what was happening," said Mpembe, who was being led by Vuyani Ngalwana, for the police.

Ngalwana asked if Mpembe had ever heard ululating during a crowd management situation.

Mpembe responded: "No chairperson. The only experience I had was during the violence in Soweto that was prior to 1994... but people were not carrying such dangerous weapons or ululating."

The second clip was shot at a far distance with a wide view of what happened.

Mpembe described seeing smoke and then shortly afterwards more smoke coming from where police were in the group of striking mineworkers.

"There is smoke and then two lines of smoke. Looks like a stun grenade," he said.

He said he told officers at an earlier briefing that if the striking mineworkers crossed the police line, officers should allow them to do so because he did not want a confrontation.

Attacking police

While the strikers were headed to the hill a police officer fired teargas at them and the strikers then turned on police and hacked two of them to death. Another was injured.

"Chairperson, at that moment I did not give an order and I am not aware who gave the order [to fire the teargas]," said Mpembe.

The commission is probing the deaths of 44 people during an unprotected strike at Lonmin Platinum's mine in Marikana, North West, in August last year.

On 16 August, 34 striking mineworkers were shot dead and 78 were wounded when police fired on them while trying to disperse a group which had gathered on a hill near the mine.

Ten people, including the two police officers and two security guards, were killed near the mine in the preceding week.

The hearing continues.

- SAPA
Read more on:    lonmin  |  police  |  ian farlam  |  mahikeng  |  marikana inquiry
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