Johannesburg - There are fears that tensions between rival unions in the platinum belt could reach boiling point if a man accused of trying to kill a leader of the opposition union is granted bail.
Prosecutor Cassius Mona told the Brits Magistrate's Court on Tuesday that should Nkosinathi Mantashe be given bail, the platinum belt would be thrown into a state of disarray, which would intensify the tensions that already existed between the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) and the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), in the North West.
Mantashe, a NUM member, is accused of trying to kill Amcu's western branch chairperson Malibongwe Mdazo on July 22, when he allegedly fired shots at his vehicle before Mdazo got out of the car and tried to wrestle the gun from him.
This incident was followed by several others, resulting in the assassination of more than five Amcu members in its stronghold of Marikana.
Mantashe is employed at Lonmin as a human resources officer.
“The victim is the leader of Amcu and today there are lots of Amcu members in this court, opposing the applicant’s bail application. His release will induce shock to the community and could trigger unhappiness that could intensify the union rivalry in Rustenburg.
"Should the applicant be released, maybe he will go and finish off what he started,” Mona contended, adding that Mantashe did not deserve bail, as he planned to eliminate Mdazo.
“The victim knew the applicant and he had been warned that the applicant wanted to kill him,” Mona pointed out.
The State alleges that Mdazo was ambushed on the way home from a soccer game in Mooinooi, with the gunman firing six shots into his car, before Mdazo got out.
Mdazo allegedly ran towards the gunman, when he stopped shooting. The two then wrestled for the firearm and Mdazo was wounded several times in the arm, chest and stomach before he ran into a nearby house.
About 15 bullet shells were retrieved on the scene.
On August 16, Mdazo made a statement at Mooinooi police station where he also identified his alleged assailant.
Mantashe was called by police only on September 12 to get a warning statement, before being released.
Mona said Mdazo queried Mantashe’s release with forensic investigator Paul O’Sullivan, whom Amcu had hired to probe the recent killings of its members, before Mantashe was arrested.
Defence advocate Katlego Magano used this “police administration blunder” to his advantage. “If the State believes it has a strong case, why would they let an 'inexperienced' investigating officer handle such a case?
"The officer testified that it was the first case he had investigated where a firearm was allegedly used. Why would he initially release the applicant if he was a danger to society?"
"There is no indication that his life would be in danger if he is released. And he is friends with some of the Amcu members he works with,” said Magano. He added that the court should focus on the charges against the accused and not be blinded by the union rivalry.
“He is just an ordinary union member and if he was a big deal, this court would have been filled with NUM members,” said Magano.
Mantashe arrived in court wearing a green T-shirt, shorts and sandals. He tried to avoid eye contact with dozens of Amcu members sitting near the dock, while others whispered insults in his direction.
Three court officials had to stand around the dock to protect him. Mantashe is rumoured to have been an Amcu member before he joined the NUM, but Amcu’s attorney Andries Nkoma dismissed the claims.
NUM’s health and safety secretary, Eric Gcilitshana, said he had met Mantashe once and he believed in his innocence.