Ramaphosa - elephant in room

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Ramaphosa1234ANC Reuters African National Congress deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa.

Johannesburg - Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa faces the likelihood of being recalled to the Farlam Commission of Inquiry after Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa takes to the witness stand with his version of events.

Mthethwa’s testimony on Monday and Tuesday about the events that led up to the massacre where 34 miners were gunned down by police in one day, has been described as “evasive”.

Another 70 miners were injured and dozens of others, arrested.

Mthethwa, who was police minister in August 2012 when when the massacre took place, was the first member of the cabinet to testify at the commission, set up to investigate the Marikana tragedy.

Although Mthethwa this week took responsibility for the deaths and injuries caused by police and admitted that “ something terrible took place” on the day, he denied accusations that he was under political pressure to intervene.

However, he conceded he had received calls from Ramaphosa, followed by National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president and newly appointed Agriculture Minister Senzeni Zokwana, saying they were concerned about the situation.

At the time Ramaphosa was a Lonmin board member.

“They were concerned about what was happening, particularly now-Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who …didn’t think what was happening was pure industrial action. He said it had criminality in it.”

Police commissioner Riah Phiyega has been named as one of the witnesses who will return to the stand, but commission sources said Mthethwa could also return based on Ramaphosa’s evidence.

Mthethwa’s evidence is closely linked to Ramaphosa’s as lawyers representing the families of the slain miners and the injured and arrested miners try to prove that it was Ramaphosa’s call to Mthethwa, exerting pressure, that led to the massacre.

Last year, advocate Dali Mpofu, who is representing the injured and arrested miners, provided the commission with Ramaphosa’s e-mails to other Lonmin executives, where he states that the situation needed concomitant action, just 24 hours before the massacre.

Ramaphosa tells the executive that he spoke to Mthethwa about dealing with the criminal act, and the Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu, who was to brief the president to get Mthethwa to act in a more pointed way.

Mthethwa’s testimony also contradicted transcripts of conversations between North West provincial police commissioner Vuyiswa Mbombo and a Lonmin official, where Mbombo mentioned receiving a call from Mthethwa saying one of the politicians was putting pressure on him.

DA police spokeswoman Dianne Kohler Barnard said this week she was not impressed with Mthethwa’s answer.

She believed there was political pressure on Mthethwa who passed it on to subordinates.

She added that Mthethwa’s “evasive” testimony was an insult to the families of both the dead and the injured miners who had relied on him to shed the light on what happened.

 

Her sentiments were echoed by Tebogo Mosikidi, an attorney representing the families of the dead miners, who said Mthethwa was evasive and did not answer all the questions.

“The purpose of the inquiry is to ascertain what happened. It’s quite disturbing that he failed to answer those questions. I also think it’s strange that he said he was not informed when police were moving to the tactical phase to disarm the miners.”

Mthethwa said Phiyega did not tell him the police would be moving to tactical phase 3 to remove the miners from the koppie and disarm them.

But Judge Ian Farlam questioned that when the situation in Marikana was no ordinary strike.

“You in fact telephoned the provincial commissioner for an update. But once the police decided that they are going to disarm these strikers and that that was a situation with potential risks, you did not inquire.”

Dumisa Ntsebeza, SC, for the families of the dead Lonmin mineworkers, asked Mthethwa in cross-examination if he was aware that police were armed with R1, R4 and R5 rifles.

Mthethwa denied any knowledge of this, saying he had not asked specific questions about which unit is there and… not there.”

Weapons were an operational matter, out of his ambit.

Institute for Security Studies senior researcher Dr Johan Burger said he also found it strange that there was a tactical unit armed with submachine guns but Mthethwa did not question that. - The Sunday Independent



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