Marikana: Phiyega leaves it to the foot soldiers

National police commissioner General Riah Phiyega’s cross-examination before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry got off to a shaky start when she appeared to be avoiding questions dealing with the police’s role in the killing of 34 mine workers in August last year.

It appears from her answers that Phiyega left the difficult task of accounting for the police’s operation to disperse striking mine workers to her foot soldiers.

Police deployed more than 600 officers at Marikana on August 16 in an attempt to disperse and disarm a group of more than 3 000 armed mine workers. The operation led to the deaths of 34 people who were shot by police and left 78 injured.

Evidence leader Mbuyiseli Madlanga SC said during his cross-examination of Phiyega that 116 of the officers deployed on the day had fired live ammunition at the striking mine workers. Madlanga asked Phiyega to explain why this was the case.

But the national commissioner resorted to the strategy she seems to have adopted to deal with questions relating to the operational details of the fateful day.

“My commanders who were in the operation would be best suited to answer that,” Phiyega responded.

But Madlanga, who seemed to be getting frustrated by this answer, hit back.

“General, you repeatedly say your commanders are best suited to answer questions. It must have been crucial for yourself as national commissioner to establish what happened at Marikana,” Madlanga said.

He further said it appeared from her responses that she had no detail at all pertaining to the operation.

Phiyega continued to wash her hands off the operation later on in the cross-examination, saying she would not speak for the commanders as they would do so themselves.

Phiyega delivered her evidence in chief before the commission, which is probing the circumstances that led to the deaths of 44 people who were killed during a violent strike by mine workers employed by Lonmin in August last year.

Madlanga said Phiyega appeared to be contradicting herself with regards to what is contained in her statement and her answers to questions.

The hearing continues.

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