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Media houses will be asked by the police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), for their video footage of the tragedy at Lonmin’s platinum mine in Rustenburg on Thursday. This was confirmed on Sunday by the body’s outgoing executive director, Francois Beukman.
Past attempts by police to gain such access have been vigorously resisted by newspapers and broadcasters on the basis that it could endanger the safety of journalists or affect their ability to cover events.
“I can confirm that video material will be essential to ascertain what happened and, during the course of the coming week, Ipid will be approaching the relevant institutions with regard to the video material made on the scene,” Beukman told Independent Newspapers in an interview.
He said the footage would be crucial to get to the bottom of what has become known as the Marikana massacre, in which 34 miners died and nearly 80 were injured after police opened fire on protesters gathered on a hill near the mine.
A further 10 people – including two police officers, two security guards and three National Union of Mineworkers shop stewards – died in earlier, separate incidents since an illegal strike began 10 days ago.
“I understand that this [access to video footage] is very sensitive in terms of media freedom, but in the circumstances, we are going to have to approach these organisations and see what we can get,” Beukman said.
He confirmed that the directorate had access to SAPS footage of the incidents.
Beukman said that in terms of Section 205 of the Criminal Procedures Act, police could force the media to hand over all their footage of the event.
The directorate was working round-the-clock on its investigation, which would seek to determine whether the police’s response was proportional to the threat posed by armed and angry mineworkers.
Beukman said Batseeba Mothlale, Ipid’s acting provisional head in North West, would head the management of the investigation, while the operational investigation would be led by Molatedi Molatedi, North West deputy Ipid head.
More than 40 investigators were working on the case, while additional experts were on standby to assist. Beukman was briefed by senior police officers at the scene on Friday.
He said it was still too early to have established the real facts around the tragedy.
Forensic experts had examined the scene and at least 70 witness statements had been taken. Ballistic tests were under way on about 45 seized firearms.
He expected to be able to confirm the number of attempted murder dockets opened later today. A team of private pathologists would start conducting post-mortems on the bodies tomorrow.
Another major focus this week would be taking statements from SAPS group leaders who were in command at the scene.
Beukman said it was likely the media would be briefed on the investigation by Tuesday.