Marikana police video blasted

2012-10-30 13:34

A lawyer representing some of the families of the 34 men killed at Marikana on August 16 has described police video footage taken that day as similar to a National Geographic film – because it focused more on the landscape than on what was happening on the ground.

Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza said this during cross examination of police forensic and video expert Lieutenant Colonel Cornelius Botha at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.

Lawyers representing various parties appearing before the commission have cast doubt over police evidence that they were unable to record any footage showing how 34 people were killed that day.

National Union of Mineworkers lawyer Karel Tipp said he challenges the credibility of Botha’s testimony that he did not recall whether the video he shot was viewed during a meeting of police top brass in Potchefstroom after the August 16 shooting.

Lonmin lawyer Schalk Burger said he couldn’t believe that Botha and the other police officials in the chopper were “blissfully unaware of what was happening on the ground when 34 people were killed”.

Botha, a police forensic and video expert with 26 years of experience, said in his evidence that on the day of the shooting, he took off in a police helicopter from the Joint Operations Centre at Lonmin to record a video of an operation to “disperse and disarm” workers gathered on a koppie in Wonderkop.

The video he shot was shown to the commission yesterday. It does not show any detail of police either disarming, dispersing or shooting people.

Instead, it shows small groups of people running in different directions and stationary police vehicles located at different points.

During cross-examination by Ntsebeza, Botha said he had left the Joint Operations Centre at 3.53pm for the koppie at Wonderkop.

However, Ntsebeza pointed out that Botha had in fact made an entry into his diary at 3.45pm, saying people were dispersing from the koppie.

Botha said he had arrived at the scene of the shooting after it had taken place.

He said he had later observed that the stipulated time in his diary entry was incorrect, as the clock on the video camera he was using was eight minutes behind.

Advocate Dali Mpofu questioned Botha as to why there was no audio on the video he took, as compared to the one shot from a helicopter used by Lonmin.

Mpofu said it was possible the footage came from somewhere else because the evidence he led last week was not supported by any audio.

But Botha argued that the reflection of his yellow watch against the helicopter window could clearly be seen in the video footage.

Botha said he had not observed any shooting nor did he see any people hiding in the small koppie because the helicopter had been flying at a high altitude.

After Mpofu posed a question concerning the apparent contradiction that, as he had been too high to see people hiding, how could he then have seen at whom the stun grenades being thrown from his helicopter were being aimed?

Botha responded by saying the helicopter did not fly at the same height all the time.

Botha said he saw two water cannons, one of which circled around the koppie at some stage.

He said there had been four helicopters in the air at the time he was shooting the video.

Botha said he was seated near a Brigadier Fritz, who was communicating with people on the ground through a two-way radio during the flight.

However, Botha seemed to contradict his evidence that he could not hear what Fritz was saying to the people on the ground, when he testified that at some stage it seemed Fritz could not do so due to some “difficulty”.

Botha said he could not dispute that there were various police units on the ground including the Tactical Reaction Unit, National Intervention Unit, Public Order Policing, Special Task Force, Dog Unit, Detectives, Negotiators and Crime Intelligence, when this was put to him by Mpofu.

Police lawyer Advocate Ishmael Semenya disputed Mpofu’s assertion that there were 62 police Nyalas at the scene, saying the video did not show any of that.

Mpofu said the commission will get to see in the next four months if his statement is correct.

Botha said it was the first operation of its scale he’d been involved in during his 28 years of service, and that it was the first time he had videoed a crime scene from a helicopter.

He also did not know if stun grenades were thrown from other helicopters.

Mpofu said the Lonmin helicopter was able to identify police vehicles on the ground and people moving out of the koppie, despite the altitude it was flying at.

Botha told the commission that the hand-held Panasonic video camera he was using malfunctioned when he zoomed in on objects as “it vibrates a lot”, something which seemed to be exacerbated by the helicopter’s movement.

He said during cross examination by Burger that at some stage Brigadier Fritz told the pilot to move away as there was “a lot of air traffic.”

Burger said it was inconceivable that Fritz and the pilot did not tell Botha what was really happening on the ground.

Botha is still undergoing cross-examination.

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