Rustenburg - National police chief Riah Phiyega maintained on Wednesday that police acted in self-defence when they opened fire on striking Marikana miners.
She was being cross-examined before the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the shooting at Lonmin's platinum mine in Marikana, North West, on August 16 last year. Thirty-four miners were killed in the clash.
George Bizos, SC, for the Legal Resources Centre and the Bench Marks Foundation, asked Phiyega to explain why there were no police casualties.
“With regard to those injuries, and the lack of any injury to any police officer, would you say the action of the police was proportional?” Bizos asked.
Phiyega said: “We are on record as saying indeed police were acting in self-defence. On the issue of proportionality (of the police’s action) I’m hoping that the debates from the experts, commanders and the outcome of this commission will give a judgment on that.
“I am not qualified and I am not comfortable to give an answer on the proportionality,” she said.
Bizos said: “Don’t the figures (of the killed and injured protesters) mean anything to you, commissioner? There was not a single scratch on any one of the few hundred police officers and so many injuries (on protesters). Do you say that is proportional?
“How did they manage to have not a single scratch if there was a threat as they describe? Please come to terms with the question. Was it (because) of the intelligent hand of the police? Doesn’t it sound strange to you?”
Phiyega replied: “I do want to say the police are trained. The police do their work professionally and I believe it is such elements which assist them to do their work in that manner.”
Bizos responded that she did not answer the question. The police chief disagreed. Earlier, Bizos said there were disagreements about the number of armed men within the crowd of protesting mineworkers who gathered the Marikana koppie on August 16.
“Do you agree with the allegation made by counsel for the police (Ishmael Semenya) that the problem was that (on August 16) there were 3000 belligerent protesters who were armed, resisting any effort to disarm?” Bizos asked.
“We have been told that there 3000 people, elsewhere (lawyer for the police Ismael) Semenya put it to a witness that there were 200
to 300 protesters who were armed. There were others who were peaceful, unarmed and were left (in peace). Which of the two versions did you, as commissioner, operate... on?”
Phiyega said: “I would not speculate on those two versions because I have not seen alternative facts. As police, people who are armed are a concern to us. Any number of armed people, be it two or seven, concerns us. The Constitution does allow people to protest peacefully and unarmed.”
Bizos was not convinced. “Please answer the question. As the national commissioner, were your actions (at Marikana) premised on having to deal with 3000 armed protesters or only two to three hundred? On what numbers did you base the decisions that you took?”
Phiyega said: “The important thing for me to say is, whether it's two armed people in protest, it bothers us as police. It is immaterial whether it is 300 or 3000. Armed protesters are not allowed by the law.” - Sapa