‘Lessons learned from Marikana’

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Policelonmin INLSA Picture: Phill Magakoe.

Weaknesses identified in the operation that resulted in the deaths of 34 striking miners at Marikana would provide lessons to help avoid similar failings in future operations, a police expert said on Friday.

Public order policing expert Brigadier Zephania Mkhwanazi was asked the previous day by commission chairman Ian Farlam to consider what lessons could be learned from the failed police operation on August 16.

On Friday he identified four points he believed should be revised.

“Operational commanders and overall commanders rely on tactical commanders to give information,” he said.

In large operations, such as Marikana, breakdowns in this communication could occur.

“We need to work (on) that,” Mkhwanazi said.

More “less lethal” weapons should be used, in case existing measures, including teargas, stun grenades and water cannons, failed.

“Always there will be a gap, (so) the best thing is to have more options,” he said.

“If you fail with teargas, what else can we use?”

He also suggested that the operation did not adequately prepare members of the tactical response unit (TRT), as they were not issued with gasmasks.

“Checking visuals, SAPS move back because the TRT were not in possession of that kind of equipment and training.”

Further research into international police agencies' non-lethal weapons should also be undertaken, Mkhwanazi said.

After the tea break on Friday, Mkhwanazi acknowledged that the Marikana operation could have been conducted at night when there were fewer protesters on the koppie near the Lonmin mine.

Procedurally, police would still have been obliged to warn protesters to disperse. In the event, this order was not given.

Mkhwanazi said that it was difficult to remove weapons from protesters at the hostels, prior to the shooting on August 16.

“It is important to know where firearms are kept... A hostel has a lot of rooms.”

This step was intended to be the final stage of the operation to disarm protesters, which ultimately failed.

Mkhwanazi said he did not know why the hostel was not searched earlier.

He said police had not searched protesters who were on their way to the koppie, as this was not normal procedure in terms of the Regulation of Gatherings Act.

The three-member commission is holding public hearings at the Rustenburg Civic Centre. The other commissioners are senior advocates Bantubonke Tokota and Pingla Hemraj.

Thirty-four striking miners were shot dead on August 16 and 78 were wounded when the police opened fire on them while trying to disperse a group which had gathered on a hill near the mine.

In the preceding week, 10 people, including two police officers and two security guards, were hacked to death near the mine.

President Jacob Zuma announced the commission in August. It must complete its work within four months. - Sapa


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