A police officer fires shots to disperse miners at Lonmin's Marikana operation. File photo: Reuters

Rustenburg - A senior police officer declined to answer numerous questions before the Farlam commission on Wednesday, saying he did not want to make assumptions.

Throughout a lengthy cross-examination by human rights lawyer George Bizos SC, public order policing expert Brigadier Zephania Mkhwanazi maintained that he was not part of the police intervention on August 16.

“Senior counsel, I do not want to make assumptions here. We are talking about the death of people here. I do not want to impress you by assuming, when I have said I was not there,” Mkhwanazi said.

Bizos responded: “I do not want you to impress me, you have been called to give your opinion as an expert in policing. You can make your assumptions.”

Bizos is representing the Legal Resources Centre and the Bench Marks Foundation at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry, chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam, investigating deadly labour unrest at Marikana mine in Rustenburg.

At Bizos’ request, video footage of the August 16 shooting was played on large television screens inside the Rustenburg Civic Centre. Photographs taken after the shooting were also shown.

The video shows police officers, using rifles with live rounds, firing at a group of protesters. Officers in front were not firing, they held their firearms down, pointing to the ground.

After a few seconds of rapid firing, the word “ceasefire” was repeatedly yelled.

A few shots went off after the loud commands to stop firing.

Bizos read to the commission an extract from standing orders of the police, stating that firing should be immediately stopped when the objective is achieved.

He questioned Mkhwanazi why some officers had continued to fire, even after the repeated commands to stop.

“If we can see that the senior police officers were shouting 'ceasefire' and pointing their guns to the ground, was that a lethal situation?,” Bizos asked.

Mkhwanazi again said he would not be drawn into the issues.

“I have said I cannot be able to give any input on that situation. My input before this commission was going to be good if I was there (at the Marikana koppie on August 16),” said Mkhwanazi.

“You are pushing me to say things about something that I did not see. Yes, I saw the officers pointing firearms to the ground (in the video) but there are many angles we did not see. We don’t know where the guns were before they pointed downwards,” he said.

Previously, Mkhwanazi had told the three-member commission that the weaknesses identified in the Marikana operation would provide the police with lessons to help avoid similar failures in future operations.

He had been asked by commission chairman, retired judge Ian Farlam, to consider what lessons could be learned from the failed police operation which left 34 striking miners dead on August 16.

Among other interventions, Mkhwanazi said more “less lethal” weapons should be used, in case the 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, as they were not issued with gasmasks.

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

Bizos is scheduled to wrap-up the senior policeman’s cross-examination on Thursday.

The judicial 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