File photo: Police officers look at protesting miners near a platinum mine in Marikana.
File photo: Police officers look at protesting miners near a platinum mine in Marikana.

300 bullets in 1 minute

By AGIZA HLONGWANE and MERVYN NAIDOO Time of article published Aug 19, 2012

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North West - It took less than a minute for the police to mow down 34 armed miners in the bloodiest massacre in the history of post-apartheid SA in the North West Province this week.

Although President Jacob Zuma has promised to set up a commission of inquiry into the Marikana Massacre, the Sunday Tribune can today reveal that at least 300 spent cartridges and 45 guns have so far been recovered by investigators from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid).

At least 180 witnesses have been lined up for interviews.

The 43-strong team from the police watchdog worked until 5am yesterday, combing the scene for forensic evidence that may shed light on why the police shot at a section of the machete and panga-wielding Lonmin strikers in Thursday’s bloodbath.

“We are still collecting evidence,” said an impeccable source close to the investigation.

“So far at least 300 cartridges and 45 firearms have been recovered. They are being sealed off and packaged and will be sent for ballistics testing. Only once we have completed the ballistics will we consider interviewing the police as possible suspects.”

The Sunday Tribune also understands that, central to Ipid’s investigation is the SAP 15 document - a mandatory record identifying all police officers deployed to the deadly operation as well as the type of firearm and number of rounds each was assigned, how many were used on the day and how many were returned.

Amid flaring tempers, the SA Institute for Race Relations called the shooting “completely unacceptable”.

“Even if the police were provoked or shot during the incident, or were angry at the killing of two police officers in the days before, no disciplined and properly trained policeman would shoot into a crowd,” it said in a statement.

Approached for comment, spokesman Moses Dlamini would not comment on developments in the investigation.

“We met police management (on Friday) and they promised to give us everything to help us determine what happened,” he said.

Dlamini said the number of police officers who had fired shots was yet to be established and that investigators had deemed it unnecessary to perform gunpowder residue tests on the officers.

“We are not doing that because there is no dispute that shots were fired. What is in dispute is whether the police were justified in using maximum force. That is what the investigation will seek to uncover.”

He added that Ipid had opened murder dockets for the dead strikers and attempted murder for the 78 who sustained injuries during the stand-off.

As part of its investigation, the directorate will also be analysing video footage of the incident captured by the police and the media.

“We are very concerned when people die at the hands of the police. This is… a mammoth task,” said Dlamini. At least 180 witnesses - including many who fled the scene - had come forward and were likely to prove crucial to the case, he said.

A total of 44 people have died in the violence during the strike.

The DA’s police spokeswoman, Dianne Kohler Barnard, said the nation deserved answers for why the massacre had happened. Kohler Barnard said the commission of inquiry formed by the president should not only look into the actions of the police but also those of labour organisations.

She said the inquiry should look into the following issues:

- Who authorised the use of live ammunition at the mine?

- Who was in command of the various police units at the mine?

- Who issued the order to fire?

- Who was responsible for planning the operation?

- On what intelligence was the planning conducted?

- The number of policemen who took part in the operation who were actually trained in public-order policing and the use of the weapons with which they were issued.

- Whether there was incitement to violence by any of the labour organisations involved.

Presidential spokesman Mac Maharaj was unable to confirm exactly when the commission would be launched, but said it would be “soon”.

“When the president makes the official announcement, he will mention when it will start its work, who will head it and the time frame,” he said.

Maharaj said Zuma was saddened by Thursday’s happenings and had said that it was one of the most tragic moments in the history of democratic SA. He said that the situation in Marikana was calm but Zuma was receiving regular reports.

Yesterday, businessman Cyril Ramaphosa’s investment company, Shanduka, said it would put R2 million towards the burial of the dead miners.

On Friday, the police commissioner, General Riah Phiyega had no qualms about telling the media that she had given the instruction to “shoot if necessary”.

“As commissioner, I gave police the responsibility to execute the task they needed to do,” she said.

“By midday on Thursday we had received information from various sources that the protesters would not end the strike peacefully and leave their gathering point or disarm. Options were weighed and the decision taken that the SAPS needed to protect their members adjacent to the protesters.”

Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu last night announced a special task team to investigate not only the deadly violence and tensions at Lonmin’s Marikana mine, but issues across the platinum sector - and a charm campaign to “various parts of the world” to restore investors’ confidence.

She said the priority was to stabilise the situation even if “my son Julius [Malema] comes forward and makes wild calls”. - Sunday Tribune

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