Pretoria - A former police officer who opened fire with live ammunition on a group of protesters in Mothutlung in North West two years ago was convicted on three charges of murder in the High Court in Pretoria on Thursday.
Judge Lettie Molopa found that former Klipgat public order policeman Warrant Officer Hyde Mophosho had used banned SSG ammunition when he fired shots into a group of Mothutlung residents protesting about water shortages in January 2014.
The judge found Mophosho guilty of murdering protesters "Bra" Mike Tshele, Enock Seimela and Oshiah Rahube and attempting to murder two further protesters, who were injured when they were hit by SSG pellets.
Mophosho was also found guilty of the illegal possession of SSG ammunition, which has been banned by the police for use in crowd control.
She accepted evidence that Mophosho had, after several debriefing sessions, confessed to a senior police officer, Brigadier Modisagaarekwa Mosimanegape, that he thought he may have used the wrong ammunition.
When he was asked where the ammunition came from, Mophosho answered "Marikana", but in court he claimed he could not remember why he had referred to Marikana and had merely made the observation because he wanted the true shooter to come out.
Judge Molopa rejected this explanation as "absurd".
Mophoso, who was using a colleague's shotgun that day, claimed he thought he was firing rubber bullets and had no intention to kill anyone but the judge said it was clear that he knew he had not fired rubber bullets.
She accepted evidence from one of his colleagues that Mophosho had immediately stopped shooting after a loud sound was heard and then disappeared behind the police Nyala.
She said it was clear that Mophosho had known he was using SSG ammunition and that he had then removed the SSG cartridge from the shotgun, which was why the cartridge was never found at the scene and was missing to this day.
She said he knew people could die when he used the illegal ammunition, but recklessly went ahead and fired a shot into the crowd.
She described Mophosho as a poor witness who had contradicted himself and changed his version to fit in with the evidence he heard in court.
She rejected his claim that their commander had not checked the weapons and ammunition issued to them that evening because they were in a hurry and accepted the evidence of his colleagues that the correct procedure had been followed.
The Judge also accepted the evidence of police ballistics expert Chris Mangena that SSG ammunition was longer and heavier than rubber bullets, had a different colour and that there was a vast difference between firing a rubber bullet and SSG ammunition.
Mophosho and seven of his colleagues at the public order policing unit were called in to control a protesting crowd in the township earlier that day, but had to return later that night when the crowd surrounded a local councillor's house and then started marching towards the municipal offices in Brits.
Their commander ordered them to use teargas and fire stun grenades and then to open fire with rubber bullets when attempts to negotiate with their leaders failed.
One community member testified that Bra Mike (Tshele), who was at the front of the crowd, had his hands in the air while facing the policemen saying "we are not fighting" before a loud shot rang out and he fell to the ground.
Tshele fell and hit his head on the tarred road after being hit with SSG pellets. He died in hospital of head injuries several days later.
The trial was postponed to February 18 for sentencing proceedings.
Members of the community - many of them dressed in ANC t-shirts - cheered on hearing that the former policeman's bail had been withdrawn.