'Tactical option' on Marikana came from top cops, Phiyega inquiry told

2016-05-04 17:00


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Pretoria – National police management decided to disarm the Marikana strikers on August 16 2012, the inquiry into suspended national commissioner Riah Phiyega’s fitness to hold office heard on Wednesday.

No local or provincial police took the decision, Captain Monwabisi Ntlati, who was a member of the North West Tactical Response Team (TRT) at the time, told the Claassen Board of Inquiry.

He was deployed to Marikana in August 2012, during the wage-related strike at Lonmin’s platinum mine.

At 14:30 on August 16, North West operational response services unit head Brigadier Adriaan Calitz summoned all the commanders in the area to a briefing. Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Scott, who was responsible for drawing up the tactical plan, then briefed the commanders.

"During the briefing, we were informed that the national management instructed that the police must act against the armed strikers as they have to be disarmed and dispersed."

Public Order Policing members were meant to disperse the strikers and TRT officers would encircle small groups and disarm the strikers, Ntlati read to the inquiry from a statement.

'All the generals'

Evidence leader Ismail Jamie SC asked Ntlati where he had heard the words "national management". Ntlati said Scott had used them during the briefing.

"I understood him to mean all the managers of policing were instructing that action be taken. All the generals," Ntlati said.

Ntlati was the first witness to give evidence at the inquiry since it started on Tuesday.

President Jacob Zuma established the inquiry, chaired by Judge Neels Claassen, in September last year. His decision followed recommendations by the Farlam Commission of Inquiry, which investigated the deaths of 44 people in the mining area during the strike.

On August 16, police shot dead 34 people, mostly striking miners, and wounded 78, while trying to disperse and disarm them.

The Farlam Commission heard that senior police leaders had decided to implement the "tactical option" – the use of maximum force against strikers – at a police national management forum meeting on August 15.

Ntlati was listed as one of the witnesses at the Farlam Commission, but was never called to testify.

However, during cross-examination at the commission, Ntlati's statement was read to Scott.

'All the decisions were made'

Scott was asked whether he knew about the decision, prior to August 16, to implement a tactical response.

"All the decisions were made. I wasn't aware that there was a meeting of any sort on that Wednesday," Scott said at the time.

Following allegations of misconduct against Phiyega during the Marikana strike, Zuma suspended her, based on 14 allegations.

The Farlam Commission’s findings included:

- A police operational plan entailed using barbed wire to surround a relatively small group of strikers on the koppie at Marikana early on August 16;

- They would be offered an exit, through which they would have to move, while handing over their weapons;

- This phase could only be implemented early in the morning when there was a relatively small number of strikers. Police tried to negotiate with the strikers;

- The encirclement plan was replaced by the tactical option, which was defective, but was implemented at 15:40 that day;

- The commission found it would have been impossible to disarm and disperse the strikers without significant bloodshed, on the afternoon of August 16;

- Police should have waited until the following day, when the original encirclement plan, which was substantially risk free, could have been implemented;

- The commission found that tactical commanders on the ground did not decide to forcibly remove the strikers from the koppie on August 16 if they did not voluntarily lay down their arms;

- The then-North West police commissioner, Lieutenant-General Zukiswa Mbombo, made the decision. SAPS leadership endorsed it at an extraordinary session of its national management forum.

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

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