Super sleuth at Marikana inquiry

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iol news pic Piet Byleveld Independent Newspapers South Africa's most respected policemen, retired veteran detective Piet Byleveld during the public hearing of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry. Picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Rustenburg - The retired detective, the politician and the gun: The Marikana commission of inquiry saw more action on its sidelines this week than inside Auditorium A, where more technical details of police training and crime scene management were presented than answers to accusations of tampering with the scene.

The police shot dead 34 miners at Marikana on August 16.

Piet Byleveld, the retired detective dubbed “super-sleuth” for his record in cracking serial murders, has popped in and out of the inquiry this month. He was brought in to assist the commission, he confirmed to Independent Newspapers, but referred further enquiries to the Justice Department.

The first politician to attend, briefly, was National Freedom Party leader Zanele Magwaza-Msibi, who, with several representatives of her party, trekked to Rustenburg on Wednesday.

“We are here to show sympathy to the families and to support the commission of inquiry,” she told Independent Newspapers, adding that with Christmas approaching, it was important that the government assisted the families.

“This has shown us there is a surplus of socio-economic issues. What is the government doing?”

And then there was the gun, concealed in the bag of a police officer, which sparked a security alert yesterday at the Rustenburg Civic Centre.

The bag appears to have gone through the X-ray machine at the entrance without a hitch, but when the video of bags was reviewed, the firearm was spotted.

The commission hearing was suspended, everyone rushed out and the police and a dog team swept the auditorium.

Last month the commission security and the police reportedly almost came to blows over whether SAPS members dressed in civilian clothes could carry their firearms.

But the matter was eventually resolved in the commission’s favour: since last week, policemen who attended the hearings in civilian dress did so without their weapons.

It is understood that the police officer at the heart of yesterday’s security breach had been updated on the commission’s security rules.

In the witness box, yet another police officer failed to provide answers as to why traditional weapons had been collected in a pile – and the bodies of the miners shot by the police moved – before crime scene experts arrived in the wake of the killings.

To date, various police experts called by the commission have testified that everyone in the SAPS knew that crime scenes must be preserved.

Like Colonel Johannes Cornelius Botha before him, Warrant Officer Patric Thibelo Thamae said: “The general rule is that every scene has to be preserved.”

But a Lieutenant-Colonel Mere had presented him with two firearms.

“He said he personally took them from the scene,” Thamae said. Forensics tests later showed they were clear of any fingerprints.

In response to veteran human rights advocate George Bizos’s question, “Do you now accept the scene was interfered with?”, the warrant officer replied: “That’s correct.”

Meanwhile, Anglican Archbishop Jo Seoka, also president of the SA Council of Churches, did not mince his words about the police.

“Police in this country can never be trusted… They tried to plant things on people. They have changed statements… I don’t trust a police person.”

But it remains unclear when there will be an opportunity for the relatives of the 34 dead miners to tell the commission their stories.

Although the Socio-Economic Rights Institute has compiled a Powerpoint presentation, alongside sworn affidavits from the relatives, SAPS advocate Ishmael Semenya objected.

He said the affidavits contained potentially evidentiary statements, which couldn’t be tested unless relatives testified.

By yesterday it was not clear whether the dispute had been resolved and whether the relatives’ presentation would be heard when the commission resumed next week.

Saturday Star


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