Phiyega fumbles at inquiry

2013-03-27 15:59
Riah Phiyega (Picture: AP)

Riah Phiyega (Picture: AP)

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Rustenburg - National police commissioner Riah Phiyega was asked on Wednesday to explain whether police intervention at Marikana was aligned to the number of protesters.

"So was that the information you based your support [intervention] plan on; the fact that there were 3 000 protesters who were armed?" advocate George Bizos asked her during cross-examination at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry in Rustenburg.

Phiyega agreed, and said there were many other factors.

He asked her to classify the protesters, separating the armed from the unarmed.

"Do you agree with the allegation made by counsel for the police that the problem was that [on 16 August] there were 3 000 belligerent protesters who were armed, resisting any effort to disarm?"

She agreed.

Bizos continued: "The South African police and their witnesses [who saw the protesters] couldn't make up their minds regarding how many people there were [at the hill].

"We have been told that there were 3 000 people. Elsewhere [lawyer for the police Ismael] Semenya put it to a witness that there were 200 to 300 protesters who were armed. There were others who were peaceful, unarmed, and were left [in peace]. Which of the two versions did you, as commissioner, operate... on?"

Phiyega said: "I would not speculate on those two versions because I have not seen alternative facts. As police, people who are armed are a concern to us. Any number of armed people, be it two or seven, concerns us.

"The Constitution does allow people to protests peacefully and unarmed," she said.

Bizos was not convinced, saying: "Please answer the question. As the national commissioner, were your actions [at Marikana] premised on having to deal with 3 000 armed protesters, or only two to three hundred? On what numbers did you base the decisions that you took?"

Phiyega said: "The important thing for me to say is, whether it's two armed people in protest, it bothers us as police. It is immaterial whether it is 300 or 3 000. Armed protesters are not allowed by the law."

Contradicting figures

Bizos said there had been contradictions in the figures given regarding the armed protesters.

Police implemented different tactics for controlling and disarming a crowd, depending on the number of strikers.

The national commissioner said she was not the right person to talk about those tactics.

She said police priority would be to disarm protesters.

On16 August last year, 34 striking mineworkers were shot dead and 78 injured when police opened fire near Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana.

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

Read more on:    lonmin  |  police  |  mahikeng  |  george bizos  |  riah phiyega  |  marikana inquiry

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