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Did cops plant Marikana weapons?

Published Nov 6, 2012


Rustenberg, North West - Two pictures. One body. One glaring anomaly. In the first picture, taken by a Warrant Officer Ramanala, the body of a dead striking miner is sprawled between two rocks, his right arm flung out to the side.

A second picture taken later in the evening under spotlight by Captain Apollo Mohlaki shows the same body, in a similar position, but with an addition – a yellow-handled panga placed under the right hand of the dead man. 

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And this isn’t the only example presented to the Farlam Commission of Inquiry on Monday that indicates an apparent manipulation of the crime scene. 

Image after image was beamed onto screens showing two sets of crime scene photos and video images taken in the aftermath of the August 16 Marikana massacre. 

Thirty-four miners were shot dead by police following a stand-off on the koppie where several thousand miners had gathered to demand better wages from Lonmin. 

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Some images showed bullet-riddled bodies, while others revealed dead miners with their hands cuffed. 

Now the police will be at pains to explain the discrepancies in the images. 

Two weeks ago, national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega instituted an internal investigation into the contradictory images. 

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Since the incident, the police have maintained they fired in self-defence because the strikers were armed, and they believed they were being shot at from the koppie.

 The images were made public on Monday when advocate Dali Mpofu, the legal representative of the 272 people arrested on the day of the shooting, cross-examined police crime scene expert Mohlaki.

 Mohlaki said he had taken his pictures in the dark, more than two hours after he arrived at crime scene two, thekoppie.

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In his early evidence, Mohlaki said there were police officers and paramedics aplenty when he arrived at the scene, and it took him more than two hours before he began taking pictures.

"Are you aware that there was some interference with evidence?” asked Mpofu.

Because of the number of people on the scene, Mohlaki said, “tampering with evidence may be [possible]”.

Mpofu then pointed out a picture of the body of Fezile Saphendu with a panga over it, and asked Mohlaki if it was his impression that the weapon had been carried by Saphendu.

Mohlaki said it was.

“Would you be surprised if I tell you that the panga was placed there by someone other than [Saphendu]?” Mpofu probed.

Mohlaki responded curtly: “I don’t know.”

“Would you agree that those traditional weapons must have arrived between broad daylight and the time you took your pictures?”

“That’s correct,” Mohlaki responded.

Mpofu’s claims were backed up by the evidence leader, advocate Mbuyiseli Madlanga, who indicated that weapons had been placed around the bodies of protesters killed in the confrontation with police.

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?” Mohlaki said.

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.

Advocate George Bizos, for the Legal Resources Centre and Bench Marks Foundation, has called for senior police officers responsible for the scene to give evidence.

“The evidence clearly showed there is at least a strong prima facie case that there has been an attempt to defeat the ends of justice… changing evidence is a very serious offence,” Bizos said.

Advocate Ishmael Semenya, representing the police, responded to the contradictory images, saying: “The national commissioner has instituted an investigation.”

Earlier in his evidence, Mohlaki said that about eight hours before the Marikana killings, a team of crime scene experts had been put on standby and told to wait to be called to process a crime scene.

Mohlaki said he and four others had waited in a holding area less than 2km from the area where the massacre took place.

Mohlaki told the inquiry that he had expected to go and take pictures of traditional weapons that would have been confiscated from about 3 000 striking miners on August 16.

“I was informed that an agreement had been reached that the people gathered at the koppie were going to disarm and withdraw, and then we’d be called in to document weapons [surrendered to the police].”

During his evidence, it was also revealed that at least 900 bullets – 400 live rounds and 500 rubber bullets – were fired on the day of the massacre.

On  Monday, Madlanga showed Mohlaki photographs of three bodies. Two were taken in daylight and one by electric light after dark. Mohlaki had taken the night pictures.

Mohlaki admitted that his photographs showed more weapons around the bodies than those taken earlier.

Madlanga pointed out discrepancies on different picture versions that were displayed next to each other.

Mohlaki’s pictures also had an iron rod protruding between the legs of a body, an axe almost in the grip of another body’s hand, and many other bodies with weapons that were placed next to pictures taken by another officer in daylight that had a contradictory version – with no weapons.

A man lying face down with his hands tied behind his back and bodies lying around with weapons scattered on the ground were some of the things shown from police video footage.

The inquiry continues.

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The Star

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