Tears as Phiyega testifies on Marikana

2013-03-14 22:34
Riah Phiyega (Picture: AP)

Riah Phiyega (Picture: AP)

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Rustenburg - A woman cried uncontrollably on Thursday as national police chief Riah Phiyega voiced condolences to those affected at the Marikana shooting in North West.

"With a deep sense of consciousness I am cognisant of the enormous pain and anguish which the tragedy has caused our country," Phiyega told the Farlam commission of inquiry into the events.

"And without any reservation, I therefore register my sincere condolences to the families of all who tragically lost their lives during this incident."

After a translation of what Phiyega said, a loud cry was heard in the Rustenburg Civic Centre as a woman burst out crying.

The commissioner paused as the woman cried uncontrollably and was helped out of the auditorium. A number of other women also stood up and left.

Many in the public gallery shook their heads when the commissioner continued.

"I wish to express my heartfelt sympathy to those who sustained injuries as a result of actions and or omissions by any of the parties.

"I do believe that as police, like many others, the situation should never be regarded as an ordinary situation."

This was in contrast to an earlier video before the commission that showed the commissioner addressing a police parade on 20 August.

"You did what you did because you were being responsible by ensuring South Africans are safe," Phiyega said at the time over a megaphone.

"I want to thank you once more for doing what you did... All we did was our job, and to do it in the manner in which we were trained... Don't feel you are being persecuted as police - you were doing your work."

People in the public gallery were gasping as they watched the video.

Phiyega sat with her head down as the video played.

Hurtful

Thursday was the first day Phiyega gave evidence on the role played by the police in the events leading up to and on 16 August last year.

On that day, 34 striking mineworkers were shot dead and 78 were injured when the 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.

The commission was adjourned to 19 March, to give evidence leader time to prepare the cross examination.

Vital questions remained unanswered as Phiyega's testimony did not touch on the question of who instructed police to use live ammunition.

In October, George Bizos SC, for the Legal Resources Centre and the Bench Marks Foundation, told the commission that the conduct of the police officers was "unique".

He said at the time he and his team would lead evidence to prove that the shootings on 16 August were acts of revenge by police officers for the earlier deaths of their colleagues.

Bizos indicated on Thursday that he was ready to cross-examine the commissioner.

Earlier, Phiyega denied she laughed and joked while footage of the shooting was being shown to the commission in October.

"That was personally a very hurtful observation. It is not only inhuman, it is totally out of my personal character and not true," Phiyega told the commission.

Phiyega was responding to a report in the Times in October that she joked with a state law adviser while a prelude to the killings was being screened.

The commission heard the degree of force used by police during a protest must be proportional to the seriousness of the situation.

Advocate Ishmael Semenya, for the police, was reading policy documents and other documents from the desk of Phiyega during her evidence before the commission.

"The use of force must be reasonable to the circumstances and the force discontinued when the objective is achieved," Semenya read.

Phiyega said she was aware of this.

Dressed in a black skirt-suit, Phiyega took her seat shortly after 09:30 and was sworn in by the commission's chairman, retired judge Ian Farlam.

The commission resumes on 19 March at 10:00.

Read more on:    lonmin  |  police  |  ian farlam  |  george bizos  |  riah phiyega  |  mahikeng  |  mining unrest  |  marikana inquiry

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