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Pretoria - A young woman’s scream pierced proceedings at the Rustenburg Civic Centre when she recognised her brother’s body in a photograph – one of the 34 striking Marikana miners killed by the police on August 16.
Her anguish was in stark contrast with the impersonal police presentation on Friday, which described the victim as “body C” – the brother – “deceased N” and repeated descriptions of the miners as “aggressive”, “moving in formation” and carrying “dangerous weapons” like spears, sticks, knobkieries, axes and knives.
Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan Scott had just described how one protester – the brother, or in the police’s terms “body C as the protester was known to us” – ran from the bush towards the police threatening them “with a spear” and how the tactical response team had shot at him.
From the film footage captured on a police captain’s cellphone and shown to the Marikana commission of inquiry, it seemed a bit of a walk for the officers to reach the spot where the brother had fallen in the veld.
His death was one of a number in 11 contacts between miners and the police.
In the police’s presentation, it emerged that on August 16 a total of 284 live rounds were fired both as warning shots and at the miners by 45 tactical response and 55 public order officers, along with 533 rounds of “less than lethal” ammunition like teargas, stun-grenades and rubber bullets.
A quick survey of the statistics given to the inquiry on Friday showed that of the 284 bullets, the tactical response team fired 159 at the miners and 88 as warning shots. The public order police shot 16 rounds of live ammunition at the miners and 21 bullets as warning shots. Scott was one of the key planners of that day’s police operation.
At a later stage, it is anticipated he will give evidence under oath. However, yesterday and Thursday, Scott delivered the police’s presentation without being sworn in.
It was deemed to be part of the police’s opening statement, an opportunity to put their side, and came in a week when revelations about the police’s actions on August 16 raised deep concerns.
This included apparent tampering with the crime scene – one dead miner was photographed twice without a weapon, then a panga appeared close to him in a third photo – and claims the policeshot miners in the back.
The police’s presentation was meant to limit, or even reverse, what SAPS lawyer Ishmael Semenya described as the police already having been judged in the court of public opinion. The detailed presentation, repeatedly stressing the police’s aim was to disperse, disarm and arrest the strikers, was backed up with film and photos, including footage from police cellphones, police cameras on the ground and in the air, as well as broadcast footage, and a series of detailed maps showing the police’s movements.
The presentation over the past two days emphasised the aggression of the striking miners, who the police say were armed and “attacked” with dangerous weapons, and the refusal by Lonmin to talk to workers until they put down the traditional weapons, or even to provide a translator fluent in Fanagalo used to communicate on the mines.
Veteran human rights advocate George Bizos was not impressed, saying the presentation had been nothing more than an “unfortunate public relations exercise”.
It had just emerged the police’s film footage was actually compiled from a number of clips from various sources. “We will not accept the veracity of the summaries or conclusions that are expressed in this presentation as valid,” Bizos added.
Dali Mpofu, who represents the more than 270 miners arrested on August 16 and initially charged with their colleagues’ deaths under the apartheid-era doctrine of common purpose, was not impressed with the footage or the police-provided translations. “We understand this as the version of the SAPS,” he said. - Pretoria News Weekend