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Rustenburg - National police commissioner Riah Phiyega knew there was evidence to suggest that one of the crime scenes where 34 protesters were shot dead by police on August 16 had been tampered with, the Farlam Commission of Inquiry heard on Monday.
Ismael Semenya for the police said: “The national commissioner has instituted an investigation.” He said the matter came to Phiyega's attention two weeks ago and that she immediately launched a probe to establish what had happenened.
Semenya said this after it became apparent that photographs taken on the night of August 16 showed more traditional weapons around the bodies of the slain miners than photographs taken earlier that day.
Evidence leader Mbuyisela Madlanga was cross-examining crime scene expert Captain Apollo Mohlaki when it became clear that scene two, in the vicinity of a koppie near Lonmin's Marikana mine in Rustenburg, had been altered between the times when the pictures were taken.
Madlanga showed Mohlaki three photographs of each of three bodies. Two were taken in daylight and one by electric light after dark. Mohlaki took the night pictures and admitted his photographs showed more weapons around the bodies than those taken earlier.
Referring to the night-time photograph of the corpse of Henry Mvuyisi Pato, Madlanga asked whether Mohlaki could see a butcher's knife and an iron rod. “That weapon is underneath the hand or arm of the deceased?”
Drawing attention to the photographs of the same body taken in daylight, Madlanga asked: “Quite plainly, that butcher's knife is not there?”. “It is not appearing, I don't see it,” Mohlaki replied.
George Bizos, for the Legal Resource Centre, asked: “Who were the people who had the opportunity to really insult the administration of justice in our country?...This came as a big surprise to us.”
Commission chairman, retired judge Ian Farlam, said it came as a surprise “to all of us”.
Last week Semenya said the integrity of the crime scene could have been compromised by the presence of paramedics. “No blame on your team, but your scene was corrupt?” he asked Mohlaki.
“We will hear evidence that paramedics asked that weapons be removed so they could do their work,” said Semenya.
Also on Monday, Dali Mpofu, the attorney for injured and arrested Lonmin miners, claimed some of the shot miners seemed to be handcuffed in a video entered as evidence.
He asked Mohlaki whether he had seen any protesters - whether dead, injured or arrested - with their hands bound behind their backs.
Mohlaki said he had not, but conceded that on a video shown to the commission it appeared to be the case.
“At the crime scene I never observed that.... I never went to individual bodies to see which one was handcuffed, which one was injured...
“If I am looking at the video there is a person, handcuffed possibly, but on the day I did not observe that.”
The video showed the dead bodies of the miners lying at unnatural angles among large rocks. Towards the end of the video, loud laughter could be heard, but the group laughing was not visible.
Asked what police might have found so amusing at the scene of so many violent deaths, Mohlaki said: “I have no idea.”
During the afternoon session, the parties debated the usefulness of separating elements of the inquiry into phases. Semenya objected to the fisrt phase being dominated by the police’s conduct on August 16.
“From our perspective, it is an open secret that SAPS has been found guilty in the court of public opinion,” he said.
Semenya argued that the contributions of the National Union of Mineworkers, the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union, Lonmin, the actions of angry crowds, and preceding events needed to be taken into account to contextualise the August 16 shootings. - Sapa