Level of force at Marikana under spotlight

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IOL pic apr9 ian farlam marikana commission Independent Newspapers Ian Farlam. File picture: Oupa Mokoena

Pretoria - Factors influencing the level of force used by the police during the Marikana shootings came under the spotlight at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry on Friday.

Police lawyer, Ishmael Semenya SC, cross-examined international public order policing expert Gary White, who has criticised the police's Marikana intervention.

“Mr White, if we are able to establish that this group of 300 or 400 sharp instrument wielding people was attacking the police, I want to suggest that it is a threat that could be contained through non-lethal force,” said Semenya.

White said the police's response to the crowd would be determined by a number of circumstances.

“... The police may be able to engage those people by using their cover of vehicles and using other tactical options available to them,” he said.

“It may be necessary for them to use live rounds if individual officers feel that there is an imminent threat to their lives. I am not trying to underestimate the level of threat potentially posed by this group.”

Semenya played several videos showing protesters moving towards the police. The commission's chairman, retired judge Ian Farlam, said it would be ultimately up to him to decide whether the miners were intent on attacking the police or were trying to move to a destination beyond them.

Semenya said Lonmin mine security guards' experiences indicated that the use of non-lethal bullets had not been effective in repelling crowds of protesters.

White, a former chief superintendent of Northern Ireland's police service, was asked by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to provide professional analysis of the Marikana shootings.

Semenya showed a slideshow of people who had died, including Julius Langa, who was allegedly killed by protesters for going to work on August 13, 2012.

He also showed images of National Union of Mineworkers' shop steward Isaiah Twala, who was killed on August 14, 2012. Twala was shot and hacked to death. His body was found by the police on the side of a hill with a bull's skull on his chest.

“Out of curiosity, these are not images you would see in Northern Ireland from a public unrest situation. Am I right? This goes beyond just killing,” said Semenya.

White said the Marikana images were shocking.

Langa's postmortem results showed that he was stabbed 18 times.

White's statements to the inquiry criticised the implementation of the police's intervention plan drawn up by Lt-Col Duncan Scott.

Last year, SAHRC lawyer Michelle le Roux said White's criticism related to the planning, leadership, and execution of the operation, which was described as “haphazard, rushed, negligent, and inadequate”.

The inquiry is investigating the deaths of 44 people during strike-related violence at Lonmin's platinum mining operations at Marikana, near Rustenburg in the North West.

Thirty-four people, mostly striking mineworkers, were shot dead in a clash with the police, more than 70 were wounded, and 250 were arrested on August 16, 2012. Police were apparently trying to disarm and disperse them.

In the preceding week, 10 people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed. - Sapa

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