Veiled widow’s courage

2012-11-03 16:23

Her face is hidden behind a veil, indicating that she is mourning her husband’s death.

She sits quietly in the auditorium of the Rustenburg Civic Centre every day, listening to proceedings at the Farlam commission of inquiry into the Marikana shootings.

When the other widows stopped attending the hearings because of behind-the-scenes politics and bureaucratic bungling, she kept coming.

She is always there, despite the dwindling number of citizen attendees.

On Wednesday, Aisha Fundi sat quietly in the half-empty auditorium, listening attentively to gory details of how her husband’s charred remains were found on a dirt road near Wonderkop.

Her husband, security guard Hassan Fundi, and his colleague Frans Mabelane, were allegedly hacked and burnt to death by striking mine workers on August 12.

The commission, chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam, is investigating the circumstances leading to these four deaths and those of 42 others who died during a strike by Lonmin miners who were demanding salaries of R12 500.

Tshepiso Ramphele, who represents the families of Fundi and Mabelane at the inquiry, said during proceedings that the families were aggrieved that the media had reported “as though either (of) their deaths are less significant, or it is as though they were in the wrong, oneway or another”.

Journalists have been barred from interviewing the families of people whose deaths are being investigated, but Ramphele said in his opening statement that the families want to know what happened and find closure.

Testifying before the commission of inquiry this week, police forensic expert Warrant Officer Frederick Opperman, painted a grim picture of the sight that greeted him when he went to investigate the scene where Fundi and Mabelane’s bodies were discovered.

He testified: “I found two bodies on the scene. One of them was ... the legs you could see were still half in the vehicle. That body was badly burned and I could also see a hack mark or a mark on the head of that body.

“The second body was a few metres from the vehicle. There were burn marks on the chest and his trousers were also burned and he had wounds (to) his face.”

Ramphele then said: “It would be beneficial if these families can have an understanding of how people working together can be so dehumanised as to kill one another in the manner in which this happened.”

The veiled widow sat silently throughout Opperman’s testimony and cross-examination.

Fundi and Mabelane were on leave when they were called in to work to provide backup after violence erupted three days prior to their deaths.

Opperman said he found their bodies 250m away from the offices of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) in Wonderkop.

Two days earlier, shots had been fired at a group of workers at the same spot and two people had died.

Opperman said he found shotgun cartridge cases and two rubber bullet or tear gas cartridge cases near the bodies.

He was not asked how he felt upon seeing the bodies, but Lieutenant-Colonel Cornelius Botha, a vastly experienced forensic expert, provided a glimpse into the psyche of those who have to collect evidence at crime scenes.

During cross-examination by Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza SC, Botha said that he took many photographs of one of the two police officers
who was killed, also allegedly by miners, on August 13.

Warrant Officers Sello Lepaaku and Tsietsi Hendrik Monene were hacked and stabbed to death during a confrontation in an open field near Lonmin’s Karee mine.

Botha said he had taken photographs during the postmortem of the other five people who were killed that day, including another police officer who died in hospital.

He said the photographs were compiled into an album.

When asked by Ntsebeza how he felt seeing the bodies of his colleagues in that state, Botha replied: “It’s going to sound terrible. I can’t say
I didn’t feel anything because it’s dead people lying there, but I’m cutting my feelings off at that stage.”

When Ntsebeza persisted, Botha responded: “I cannot answer it in any other way.

After 26 years of seeing dead policemen (and) dead civilians, when you get to the scene, you cut yourself off because if you get emotional you are not going to do a good job.”

Police forensic expert Captain Apollo Jeremiah Mohlaki painted a bloody picture when he took the stand, describing dead bodies lying between rocks, traditional weapons strewn across the ground, and live ammunition cartridges and rubber bullets lying on rocks.

He investigated the scene known as Small Koppie, where 18 of the 34 people who died on August 16 were shot and killed.

Mohlaki testified that he found a firearm loaded with 15 rounds of ammunition, along with several pangas, spears, bush knives, sticks and sharpened steel rods, which the commission later learnt are known as incula, used mostly by Xhosa men during battle.

Advocate Ishmael Semenya SC, who is representing the police, said he would lead evidence that police fired no fewer than 500 rounds
of rubber bullets and 400 rounds of live ammunition.

Amid all the gory testimonials, there have been some lighter moments during the inquiry, such as when Mohlaki testified he and his colleagues discussed football teams Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates while waiting for instructions on the day police opened fire on the strikers, killing 34 of them.

“Talking about players, which team is the strong one, which one can lose players ...” he testified.

The inquiry continues in Rustenburg tomorrow.

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