Riah Phiyega won’t leave without a fight

2015-06-28 06:16
Police commissioner Riah Phiyega and Sanef executive director Mathatha Tsedu

Police commissioner Riah Phiyega and Sanef executive director Mathatha Tsedu (Lisa Hnatowicz / Nuus Noord)

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National police commissioner General Riah Phiyega is digging in her heels ahead of the inquiry into her fitness to hold office announced by President Jacob Zuma this week.

Two highly placed sources told City Press that Phiyega was taking retired Judge Ian Farlam’s Marikana report extremely hard and feeling “hurt” and “down” about its findings and recommendations.

Phiyega is said to feel particularly aggrieved because she had only been at the head of the SA Police Service (SAPS) for two months at the time of the massacre on August 16 2012.

On Thursday, Phiyega received a letter from the president detailing the report’s recommendations and asking her to explain why she was fit to hold office.

However, two senior police insiders told City Press Phiyega was adamant that she would not resign before a board of inquiry was held. One of the sources said she had told him on Friday: “I am going nowhere.”

“I know she will not go down without a fight,” said the source. “This has affected her very negatively.”

Although Phiyega has until July 31 to reply to Zuma’s letter, moves to appoint an acting replacement are already in full swing.

A senior source in the criminal justice cluster told City Press that although it was up to the presidency to arrange the board of inquiry, “things are moving very fast” and they expected Phiyega to be suspended as soon as President Zuma received her responding letter.

Two separate senior insiders said the divisional commissioner of operational response services, Lieutenant General Elias Mawela, was believed to have been earmarked to act in her place, a move that was already angering at least two of Phiyega’s three deputy national commissioners.

The Marikana report released this week found that Phiyega knew about and allowed a plan by her senior officers to hide evidence from the commission and, with provincial commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo, took “irrelevant” political considerations into account when deciding on what to do at Marikana.

Miners to sue Ramaphosa

When the wounded and arrested miners meet today in Marikana with their lawyers, including Advocate Dali Mpofu, they will begin processes to sue Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa for his role in the massacre.

Speaking on the miners’ behalf, Mzoxolo Magidiwane told City Press they would instruct their lawyers to start drafting court papers as soon as possible to institute civil claims against Ramaphosa in his personal capacity, as well as against the police ministry and the mining company Lonmin. “The commission is done now and the miners are not happy with the report. We will not sit on our laurels,” said Magidiwane.

Their lawyer Andries Nkome said they would be reporting back to their clients today regarding the report. “We were asked to advise what legal avenues are available to them if they are unhappy with some of the findings,” he said.

Farlam’s report found that Ramaphosa’s emails to Lonmin management, then police minister Nathi Mthethwa and former mineral resources minister Susan Shabangu days before the shooting demanding “concomitant action” could not have caused the deaths of the 34 miners killed in the massacre. “The accusations made against him by counsel for the injured and arrested persons are groundless,” the report found.

Farlam is respected – Bizos

Unlike the miners, Advocate George Bizos, who was at the commission representing the family of slain miner John Ledingwane – who was shot in the back of the head 80m away from where the police said they were attacked – said he had confidence in Farlam’s report.

“I spent many years, from 1960, sitting in commissions where massacres were being investigated – including Sharpeville and Boipatong,” he said.

The commission into the Boipatong massacre in which 44 people were killed was headed by Judge Richard Goldstone, whose report released in 1992 found that there had been no evidence of police collusion in those killings.

“The invariable result was that there was no one to blame and we had to live with it, even though it was shown that there were deaths, injuries and torture.

“There was nothing we could do about it,” said the 87-year-old human rights lawyer.

“I didn’t think I would ever have to face that kind of situation after 1994, even though there was quite a lot of violence leading up to the elections,” added Bizos.

“I never expected I would have to be involved the way I was involved during the apartheid regime with what happened on 16 August.”

Bizos said that although he still needed to fully consult the Ledingwane family, they would be instituting civil claims against Lonmin, the SAPS or both.

Speaking on behalf of the widows and families, Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (Seri) litigation director Nomzamo Zondo said they were focusing on Farlam’s recommendations that the North West director of public prosecutions should investigate the cases and decide whether to prosecute.

The families will also lodge civil claims against Lonmin and the SAPS.

“The families have been severely let down by the commission.

“They didn’t only want to apportion blame but also get closure. The very least they wanted were answers – yet they still don’t know why their husbands, brothers and breadwinners were killed,” added Zondo.

No answers from Ipid

Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) spokesperson Moses Dlamini said their investigation team would hold a meeting in the coming days with the investigation team to “analyse the evidence”.

“They would also engage experts and decide on the way forward,” he said, adding they would discuss resuming the investigations they began in 2012 and which were stopped when the Farlam commission was announced.

Senior Ipid sources told City Press the evidence they had gathered ran into thousands of pages, which was submitted to the Farlam commission. They said they were only able to recommend that assault charges be pursued against North West’s deputy provincial commissioner, Lieutenant General William Mpembe, and a few other officers, who allegedly tortured a number of arrested miners in police cells. That case had already been referred to the North West director of public prosecutions for a decision.

Mpembe declined to comment.

However, two senior sources said that the chances of prosecuting any individual police officer for his or her role in the massacre were slim – including those at what is known as Scene 2, where officers who pursued miners after the initial shooting killed them as they were trying to flee or were hiding behind boulders.

The docket, they said, contained no evidence to link any particular police officer to any murder.

“The guns that were used were high-calibre weapons and, in almost all the instances, the bullets went through the victims’ bodies, leaving no evidence linking individual police weapons to bodies,” said one senior source.

The sources said the fact that police officers left the scene before Ipid investigators arrived and returned their weapons to the armoury had made investigations even more difficult.

“The police have also not been helpful in the investigation,” said a source, adding that the scenes had been contaminated. “This is a sad reality: families are unlikely to know who murdered their loved ones or see them serve jail time.”

‘I was at Scene 2’

Two senior police officers, one a tactical response team member and another a senior officer in the national intervention unit, told City Press this week about the chaos at Scene 2 and how the police had tried to cover their tracks.

“There was no command and control. We were just shooting to a point that even our dogs were confused about what was going on. One of our officers was even bitten by our dog during the shooting,” said one of the men.

“At Scene 2, the miners were not advancing and many were shot from behind. The management knows about this but decided to come up with another version of events,” said the other officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We shot them because we didn’t want them to point us out and testify against us. That’s why the police also went to the police stations to look for miners with cellphone footage of what happened.”

The officer said they were asked to make affidavits detailing what happened.

“I gave a true account, but was told to change my version by a senior officer, who said I had lied.

Read more on:    riah phiyega  |  marikana

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