He made the statement while wrapping up his evidence-in-chief at the Farlam Commission, which is probing the death of people at Marikana during the violent Lonmin strike in 2012.
“Whatever happened was not supposed to happen. Something terribly wrong took place. How exactly that happened, I’m sure this commission is seized with looking at. That is why the president decided to appoint this commission,” he said.
Mthethwa, who is now the arts and culture minister, refused to take responsibility outright for the killing of the miners, but did accept that he was ultimately responsible for the act of his charges as the responsible minister.
He also said “trigger-happy” police officers should not be ignored when asked by Advocate George Bizos, SC, if that should be the case.
“But where necessary, they have to do what the [Police] Act says they should do… All the time there is no place for members of SAPS who are trigger-happy,” he said.
Later, Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, SC, asked him if he was aware of a media briefing by national police commissioner Riah Phiyega, where she said the police had been forced to use force in Marikana after the employment of stun grenades had been unsuccessful.
Ntsebeza also pressed the former police minister on whether he knew that the police units being deployed in Marikana used “military weapons” like R1 and R5 rifles to keep public order.
Mthethwa said he was aware of the deployment of the units, but did not get involved in operational issues like what kind of equipment would be used by the police in the execution of their duties.
Ntsebeza put it to him that his failure to find out amounted to “a dereliction of duty”.
“The minister of police is not the person who is supposed to ask the police how many guns they have…It’s an operational matter. In fact, I differ that it’s a dereliction of duty. Surely operational matter of a police service that would know what to do in a situation,” he said.
Mthethwa’s cross-examination continues this morning.
By Sabelo Ndlangisa