Phiyega tweaked media statement on Marikana killings, inquiry hears

2016-05-05 14:20
Riah Phiyega (File: AP)

Riah Phiyega (File: AP)

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Pretoria - Suspended national police commissioner Riah Phiyega changed a statement prepared by police shortly before addressing media about the 34 strikers killed in Marikana on August 16, 2012.

She removed reference to the number of people killed and added that police were forced to use "maximum force" to defend themselves, Lindela Mashigo, a brigadier at the time and responsible for the police's communications department, told the inquiry into Phiyega’s fitness to hold office.

On August 17, Phiyega dictated to him the changes in the statement to be read to journalists about the previous day’s events.

Phiyega wanted a sentence inserted stating that the striking miners wielded dangerous weapons and had shot at officers trying to arrest them.

Mashigo was at Lonmin’s Marikana mine with Phiyega, North West commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo, and her Gauteng counterpart Mzwandile Petros, when he was asked to change the statement. Mbombo and Petros scrutinised it and Phiyega approved it.

Two paragraphs in the original statement read:

"When the police started deploying the barbed wire fencing, a militant group from the protesters armed with weapons, pangas, spears, axes and firearms hastily flanked the vehicles deploying the wire. They were met by members from the police who tried to repost the advance with stun grenades. The attempt was unsuccessful and the police members had to employ force to protect themselves from the charging group. This resulted in the death of 16 protesters with 13 wounded at the scene."

This was changed to remove reference to the types of weapons the strikers had and to the number of people killed and wounded. An addition made was that police used stun grenades, a water canon, and teargas on the protesters.

The next paragraph in the original statement read:

"The dispersion action had commenced at this time and the protesters were driven from their stronghold to a high bushy ground in the close vicinity. The police members encircled the area and attempted to force the protesters out by means of water canons, rubber bullets and stun grenades. The police advance to arrest the armed protesters, resulting in police officers having to again employ force to defend themselves at close quarters. This resulted in 13 more protesters’ deaths and 15 more wounded at the second incident.”

'Forced to utilise maximum force'

This was changed to add that after police tried to force protesters out, "the militant group stormed towards the police, firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons", Mashigo told the inquiry.

Phiyega instructed him to insert a sentence that "police retreated systematically and were forced to utilise maximum force to defend themselves".

Again, reference to the number of dead was removed.

The board of inquiry is examining Phiyega’s conduct during the Marikana strike and her fitness to hold office. President Jacob Zuma established it in September last year and Judge Neels Claassen was appointed to chair it.

The inquiry followed a recommendation by the Farlam Commission of Inquiry, which investigated the deaths of 34 people during the strike-related unrest at Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana, North West, in August 2012.

Police shot the striking miners on August 16, apparently while trying to disperse them and end the strike. Ten people, including two police officers and two Lonmin security guards, were killed during the previous week.

Zuma suspended Phiyega in October last year, over 14 allegations of misconduct.

The inquiry adjourned for the day. Phiyega's lawyer, William Mokhari SC, was expected to cross-examine Mashigo on Friday.

Read more on:    police  |  riah phiyega  |  marikana  |  marikana inquiry

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