Flags to fly at half mast for a week

NM Pg1 Pic INLSA National police commissioner Riah Phiyega, left, dries her eyes during the funeral of policeman Sello Ronnie Lepaaku, who was killed by miners during the Lonmin mines strike near Rustenburg last week. While some were able to bury their dead, others were left in a state of anguish and uncertainty. An inconsolable Sebabatso Lekhutla and Ntebaleng Pitso, right, are unable to hold back their emotions at the Andrew Saffy Memorial Hospital in Rustenburg yesterday, after being told to return to the hospital today as their brothers name was not yet on the list of missing mineworkers.

The tears ran freely yesterday – underlaid by anger. In Mpumalanga, national police commissioner Riah Phiyega struggled to contain her emotions as officers buried Warrant Officer Sello Lepaaku in Seabi village in Mpumalanga.

Lepaaku was hacked to death apparently by striking mineworkers last Monday. Three days later, his colleagues shot and killed at least 34 miners as they stormed off the same koppie between Wonderkop village and Marikana Mine towards the police skirmish line.

Phiyega absolved all her officers of guilt in what is now described as the worst massacre in democratic SA’s history.

“It was the right thing to do,” she said.

“We are sorry that lives were lost,” she said, adding that the safety of the public was ‘non-negotiable’.

“As SAPS, we are doing our work. No criminal, no person will discourage us from doing so.”

She appealed to the public to understand how her officers felt: “Take into account the reasons why we did this. Our officers were emotionally bruised.”

In North West, anxious relatives flocked to the Andrew Saffy Memorial Hospital in Wonderkop, the prison and the morgue to find out if their loved ones were dead or alive.

They fear the official death toll of 34 could be far higher.

Relatives and residents took to the streets on Saturday when President Jacob Zuma arrived, closely followed by former ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema.

They blamed Zuma and Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa for authoring an ethnic cleansing of Xhosa workers.

Tholakele Dlunga, one of the ringleaders of the striking miners who escaped the slaughter, blamed the police’s aggression.

“We were sitting and singing on the hilltop when we suddenly noticed armed police encircling us with barbed wire. Some of the men on the hilltop then confronted the police about it. It was then that the police opened fire on us.

“Yes, we were carrying weapons, but none of us fired any shots or attacked the police,” he said.

“The police did not fire any warning shots and had instead fired their guns directly at us.

He claimed that after the shooting, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to “cover up their murderous act”.

Many more speakers backed him up, saying some strikers were killed when police drove over them in their Nyalas as they tried to flee.

Malema was scathing in his condemnation of the killings.

“How can you use an automatic rifle to control the crowd?” Malema asked to rousing applause.

“Jacob Zuma must step down for supervising the massacre of the people of Marikana. Nathi Mthethwa must also step down because the killings happened under his command.”

Yesterday, Zuma declared a week of mourning for the massacre. The SA flag will fly at half mast at all flag stations in SA and missions outside the country during the mourning period.

Thursday will be the official day for memorial services to be held around the country “to mourn and promote a violence-free society”.

Yesterday, the massacre site was deserted. There were no posies of flowers, no pictures of those who died, no crosses in an informal shrine.

Instead, dried blood on the ground and discarded blue rubber gloves marked the spot where the first group of men were killed on Thursday.

There were wooden sticks circling a bone fragment which many believed was a piece of skull blown out in Thursday’s hail of bullets.

An unknown man cut a forlorn figure as he stood next to a blanket and some clothes strewn around the open field.

“I believe innocent people were killed.

“They were peaceful men who wouldn’t hurt a fly but possibly went to the mountain because they didn’t want to seem like cowards and targeted for not supporting their colleagues’ course,” he said.



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