Rustenburg - Police officers deployed at Marikana before the August 16 shooting should have disarmed the protesters earlier, human rights lawyer George Bizos SC said at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry on Wednesday.
“The occurrence book of August 16 shows that after 9am, the crowd was increasing by between 15 to 100 (people) every 15 to 30 minutes. Wasn’t it appropriate to disarm them when they were coming in small groups?” Bizos asked public order policing expert Brigadier Zephania Mkhwanazi.
Bizos is representing the Legal Resources Centre and the Bench Marks Foundation at the inquiry, chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam, and being held in Rustenburg.
He sought clarification on why police officers had watched the crowds congregating at the koppie, without stopping them.
Mkhwanazi responded: “I will not be able to explain why they took that decision. I am told there was an agreement made on August 15 that the people were going to disarm and disperse.”
Mkhwanazi said in general public order policing officers respected the agreements entered into with leaders of protesting groups.
Bizos was not convinced by Mkhwanazi’s answers.
“That is what we are going to describe as evasive answers. We understand that there was intelligence (amongst police officers) indicating that the people were not going to disarm voluntarily,” Bizos said.
“The plan was to disarm and disperse the people. We would have expected the police to disarm the around 100 people who gathered at the koppie in the morning rather than wait for 3500 people to arrive,” he said.
Mkhwanazi said even if there were only 100 people, there were reasonable grounds to delay the process of disarming as the protesters were dangerous.
“If that was the plan, to disarm and disperse, we also look at whether the plan is executable. It may be that we will be putting the lives of our members in danger.
“If you decide to go into that 100 people without the adequate means, you may have a problem,” said Mkhwanazi.
Farlam continually intervened, reminding Bizos that Mkhwanazi was not part of the police's plan at the Lonmin mine, but had only been called before the commission to give “expert opinion”.
To many of Bizos’ questions, Mkhwanazi repeatedly said: “I was not there, it’s difficult for me to presume. I would want to be of assistance to this commission but I cannot say what happened there. I do not have facts of what happened.”
Bizos questioned Mkhwanazi regarding the lack of adequate communication between the police and protesters, particularly regarding the roll-out of barbed wire at the koppie on August 16.
Bizos said there were reasonable grounds to believe chaos erupted on August 16 when the police set up barbed wire without prior explanation to the crowds.
He said evidence would be led to indicate that as the barbed wire was rolled out, some of the protesters, fearing being encircled, panicked and ran in all directions, without the intention to attack police officers.
“If the purpose of the barbed wire had been clearly given through loudhailers, do you think there was going to be this misunderstanding?” Bizos asked Mkhwanazi.
The policeman said the barbed wire was intended to protect journalists and police officers. He said police had hoped to communicate the message to the protesters, but the crowd would not let them finish.
“I am told the purpose of the barbed wire was not to encircle them (protesters). Procedurally, the barbed wire is deployed to channel the participants towards a certain way, but it was a different scenario in this case,” Mkhwanazi said.
The three-member commission of inquiry is holding public hearings at the Rustenburg Civic Centre into the killings in Marikana, North West. Thirty-four striking miners were shot dead on August 16 and 78 wounded when the police opened fire on them.
In the preceding week, 10 people, including two police officers and two security guards, were hacked to death near the mine. - Sapa