Police: Strikers would lay down weapons

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

(Picture: AFP)

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Pretoria - An Amcu official reassured police that striking Lonmin miners would voluntarily lay down their weapons, the Farlam Commission of Inquiry heard on Monday.

North West deputy police chief Major General William Mpembe said a day before the 16 August shooting, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) president Joseph Mathunjwa told them the mineworkers would voluntarily disarm.

"Our impression was that they are willing to go back to work," Mpembe told the commission, sitting in Centurion.

"Mathunjwa said the people would lay down their weapons voluntarily at 09:00 and disperse peacefully [on 16 August]."

He said he held a meeting with mine management and unions on 15 August, asking them to intervene to ask their members to disperse.

The platinum mine's management approached the strikers without a union present, he added.

The commission heard Mpembe was tasked with negotiating with Lonmin's management as part of the police plan to prevent armed mineworkers from gathering on a hill at Marikana.

He said 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 it.

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

"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 commission heard that the strikers had police radios and could hear what police were communicating internally, which put the officers at risk of being attacked.

Mpembe told the commission that Lonmin management helped identify the mineworkers on strike, but asked police not to tell the unions about their assistance.

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

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

Describing the behaviour of the strikers, Mpembe said the group crouched as they walked, beat their weapons against each other and on the ground, and ululated before they attacked the officers.

"One could not understand what was happening," Mpembe replied to questions from 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 miners attacked the police after a stun grenade was fired in their direction, the commission heard.

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

On 16 August, 34 striking mineworkers were shot dead and 78 wounded. Ten people, including the two police officers and two security guards, were killed near the mine in the preceding week.

The hearing resumes on Tuesday with Mpembe giving his evidence-in-chief.

Read more on:    william mpembe  |  marikana inquiry

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