A public order police training expert on Thursday refused to criticise an operation that led to 34 striking miners being shot dead by police at Marikana in the North West.
“If I was part of the operation... I would be in a position to say it was a tragedy. But for me to say 'this is what went wrong' would be totally unfair,” Brigadier Zephania Mkhwanazi told the Farlam commission of inquiry in Rustenburg, during questioning by evidence leader Matthew Budlender.
Pressed by Budlender, who said he was not asking him to apportion blame at that stage, Mkhwanazi conceded.
“Yes, it was a tragedy.”
Budlender persisted: “The core purpose of the operation was to preserve life... The operation failed, 34 people died”.
Mkhwanazi said: “It's difficult to say it failed... I cannot say because I was not part of the operation”.
Budlender asked him whether the operation had preserved life, and Mkhwanazi said there were “influences which brought the operation into that situation”.
Commission chairman, retired judge Ian Farlam said, based on previous testimony, the operation was aimed at getting protesters to lay down their arms and disperse.
“Seen in that light, the operation cannot be seen as a complete success?”
Mkhwanazi maintained he could not say because he was not involved.
Budlender said Mkhwanazi, during evidence-in-chief, ventured no criticism of the police's actions or planning for August 16, the day of the shooting.
Mkhwanazi had repeatedly said he did not have enough information to give a critique of events. Budlender commented that Mkhwanazi knew enough to defend the SAPS conduct under oath.
“You know enough to give the police a clean bill of health, but not enough to criticise?”
Mkhwanazi said in terms of questions he had so far been asked, he had not found grounds to do so.
At the end of the day's proceedings, Farlam asked Mkhwanazi to consider overnight what lessons could be drawn from the events, to avoid future tragedies under similar circumstances.
Earlier, the legal representative for police, Ishmael Semenya, gave an account of the operational plan for August 16, the units deployed and equipment used.
“Given your training and experience, would your response be that police acted in... self-defence?”
“Definitely, members have acted in a proper way, proportionate to the situation.”
Breaches of barbed wire barricades, as soon as police tried to erect them, changed the dynamics of the situation, and influenced the plan, he said.
The commission heard that after these breaches, no order was given to the protesters to disperse. In terms of the Regulation of Gatherings Act, this order should have been given twice over a loud hailer.
Earlier, the commission heard allegations that on Wednesday Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) members had tried to intimidate National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) members in the parking lot outside the Rustenburg civic centre, where the hearings were taking place.
Karel Tip, for NUM, said about 40 people wearing Amcu t-shirts “more or less confronted NUM members, in a fairly confrontational manner”.
A song, translated as “kill the NUM”, was sung, and police intervened, but no serious consequences ensued.
Farlam said it was important for the commission be allowed to conduct its work in a harmonious atmosphere. - Sapa