Mystery surrounds the identity of the gunman who fired three shots at a group of protesting rock drill operators in an incident that is believed to have sparked off the bloodbath that resulted in the deaths of 44 people.
The shooting incident, which left two people injured, took place near the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) offices at platinum mining giant Lonmin’s Wonderkop hostel in Marikana on August 11 last year.
It occurred after a group of more than 2?000 rock drill operators marched on the NUM’s offices, allegedly with the intention “to deal with” the union’s branch leadership and to burn down the office.
Evidence led before the Marikana Commission of Inquiry in Rustenburg this week revealed that a security guard employed by Lonmin had warned a group of about 30 NUM members gathered at the building to close the office and flee for their lives.
But Saziso Albert Gegeleza, a NUM vice secretary at Rowland Shaft, testified that about 20 of them decided to take up arms and defend the office against the alleged planned attack by the rock drill operators.
Gegeleza said he had been given a spear and a knobkierrie by Daluvuyo Bongo, a NUM branch secretary, who distributed weapons to the men in anticipation of the attack.
When asked during cross examination by Advocate Dali Mpofu on whether this small group of NUM men, armed only with sticks and a few asseggaais, were prepared to face the 2 000 rock drillers, Gegeleza gave a response that sent ripples of nervous laughter through the public gallery dominated by the union’s supporters clad in red t-shirts.
“Where I come from I have never been told that fighting is determined by numbers. Since I was born I’ve never heard of that. What I know is that in a battle there are two sides, one will win and the other will lose,” Gegeleza said.
He said the rock drill operators were the ones who first attacked the NUM members, saying they had thrown stones at them “until there were no more stones left.”
Gegeleza said the rock drill operators fled after three shots were fired. He said he did not see who had fired the shots and had not seen any guns in the possession of NUM members that day.
Mpofu asked Gegeleza if he had enquired about the fate of the two victims, to which he replied: “I would not have taken an interest in a person who wanted to attack me.”
Mpofu said one of the two victims will testify that “the bullet struck him in the back and ripped through his stomach which is now bloated, bulging and you can see his intestines.”
The union’s president, Senzeni Zokwana, told the commission on Thursday that Gegeleza’s group were “brave”.
“In defending the NUM office they protected the image of the union. We believe that there is no one who has the right to threaten someone or destroy their property,” said Zokwana.
Zokwana said the union’s members had been failed by the system that was supposed to protect them, in reference to evidence that Lonmin security guards had fled after telling Gegeleza and his men they couldn’t protect them or their office.
“Instead of saying we are getting reinforcements, he says to them run, and leaves them,” said Zokwana.
Zokwana said during cross examination by SAPS lawyer Ishmael Semenya SC, he could not comment on whether the union condoned the firing of the shots.
He said he did not do so because he did not know “whether the circumstances required the shots to be fired because the people’s lives were under threat or whether the gun was illegal or not.”
He said the union would not condone the use of violence, but “would understand if they (NUM members) felt they were under threat and their lives were under threat.”
Three NUM witnesses who include Gegeleza, Zokwana and Western Platinum branch chairman William Setelele pleaded ignorance of the identity of the person who fired the three shots.
However, the denial has been contradicted by evidence contained in the union’s opening statement which said the shots had been fired by NUM members in self-defence.
Commission chairperson retired Judge Ian Farlam said two dockets of attempted murder have been opened by the police in relation to the incident. He said indications are that the shots were fired by NUM members.
This incident, on the morning of August 11, has been identified as the turning point in the unprotected strike which had started three days earlier with no incidents of violence.
The commission has heard that after incident, the protesting rock drill operators armed themselves with pangas, spears and other dangerous weapons.
The following day, a Sunday, Lonmin security guards Frans Mabelane and Hassan Fundi were brutally killed by the protestors near the site of the previous day’s battle.
Mabelane’s body was burnt beyond recognition in the car he was driving and Fundi was hacked and stabbed, his badly mutilated body left on the side of a road.
On Monday, two days after the shooting near the NUM offices, the protesters shot, hacked and stabbed Warrant officers Monene and Lephaaku after they had refused to disarm.
The confrontation took place between Karee mine and the Marikana koppie where they had set up base after the outbreak of violence days earlier.
By Wednesday August 15, the death toll which included NUM shopsteward Isaiah Twala, who was also hacked and stabbed by the protestors, stood at 10.
Gegeleza testified that after the shooting incident near the NUM offices, it was decided that all the union’s shop stewards be removed from the Lonmin mine premises “for their own safety and that alternative accomodation be arranged off the mine.”
NUM spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka told City Press that its members who fled the violence at the time were still staying at safe houses organised by the union.
He said the union members were worried about their appearance before the commission, particularly after what happened to a union member last year.
The union’s branch secretary at Marikana, Daluvuyo Bongo, was shot and killed on October 5, three days after pointing out scenes of the violence of August 11.
No one has been arrested in connection with the August 11 shooting.