Police reveal tactical Marikana approach
Rustenburg - A few days before police shot dead 34 miners, they had resolved to “respond proportionally” to an attack from striking Lonmin miners.
This was said on Thursday at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry during a police presentation during which the police sought to show the escalation of violence and aggression leading to the shootings on August 16.
Two police officers, Colonel Victor Visser and Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan Scott, took the commission through the events leading up to the day of the police shootings.
Police have told the commission they shot the miners in self-defence.
The commission was shown gruesome images of two police officers who were hacked to death after some of the miners had allegedly pounced on them.
The officers suffered head wounds and one had two bullet wounds to the body as well.
The commission was also shown an aerial picture of two rows of naked men as well as video footage of a man sprinkling some liquid over a group of strikers.
The police said this had formed part of rituals that the strikers believed would make them invincible.
Police said four people - two miners and two security guards - had died already on Sunday, August 12.
They said they had found themselves facing a very aggressive group of miners
towards the middle of August.
At this point, the police’s strategy was to enter into dialogue with the strikers.
Visser told the commission that the plan was to negotiate with the strikers first, to get them to lay down their weapons and to disperse.
If that failed, various police units would be deployed as a show of force. This would be followed by a “tactical response stage” during which strikers would be dispersed into smaller groups, disarmed and arrested.
An intelligence-driven follow-up operation would then kick in and, during this phase, those who had broken the law would be arrested in their homes.
The last stage would be to cordon off and search hostels to clear them of dangerous weapons.
Visser said the number of striking miners at the mountain had risen to about 3 000 and miners were seen carrying dangerous weapons.
Visser began his presentation on incidents that took place on Monday, August 13, a day he described as having been tense. More than 200 officers were already in Marikana on the day.
With 70 officers under his command, Major-General William Mpembe had approached about 300 strikers armed with sharp weapons and knobkieries near Karee mine.
Video footage shows the group defying a police request to surrender weapons and to disperse.
The leader, Mgcineni Noki, also known as “the man in the green blanket”, who was killed in the August 16 shooting, is seen in the video saying to Mpembe: “We’re not fighting anyone. Please escort us to the so that you can see that indeed we’re not fighting.”
Police accompany the group as it marches to the koppie, but some people are later seen in the footage running around amid smoke.
“ some protesters changed direction to enter an informal settlement and police used tear gas to discourage them from entering the area, walked through it,” Visser narrated the events to the commission.
He said stun grenades were discharged, the strikers fled and while police were shooting rubber bullets, some of them were “overpowered by the group and hacked to death”.
Seeing their colleagues under siege, police fired more rubber bullets and stun grenades were discharged from a helicopter overhead.
When the crowd did not respond, police used live ammunition and later two men were found dead. A third man was found dead in the area with stab wounds.
As tension gripped the area and the violence intensified that Monday, almost 600 officers were deployed to Marikana.
Police first engaged the striking miners at the koppie at about 4.30pm, a day after two of their colleagues had been killed.
“ were very aggressive and said they didn’t know why police were present because they with Lonmin ,” Visser said.
This was shortly after the body of a mine supervisor had been discovered by journalists behind the koppie.
The police had negotiated for a long stretch of time to be allowed to retrieve the body - the 10th person who had died during the strike between Sunday and Tuesday of that week.
National Union of Mineworkers president Senzeni Zokwana and his fellow Numsa delegates wanted to address the miners on the Wednesday, but had to abandon those plans after they were chased away.
In contrast, Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union president Joseph Mathunjwa was welcomed and allowed to address the group.
Visser said he had gone back to the police and reported that the strikers had committed to surrender their weapons the following morning at 9am.
Scott said police informers had told them this was not going to happen.
He said 630 officers were working day shift in Marikana on the day the miners were killed.
He said Noki, whom the police had dubbed “Mr Green”, had told police during an earlier attempt to engage the strikers they were not wanted at the koppie.
The commission hearings continue.