North West - Protesting Lonmin mineworkers assumed police were encircling them when barbed wire was rolled out before the Marikana shooting, the Farlam commission of inquiry heard on Thursday.
This emerged when Advocate Lesego Mmusi, for protesters arrested after the August 16 shooting, cross-examined public order policing expert, Brigadier Zephania Mkhwanazi, on crowd control measures the police implemented that day.
“Evidence will be led to indicate that when the police officers started deploying the barbed wire at the scene, the protesters assumed they were being surrounded and started leaving the koppie.
“They left in various directions, some left towards Nkaneng (an informal settlement), others left towards Marikana, all these being places where they reside.”
Mkhwanazi said he did not want to comment.
Mmusi continued: “The group that headed towards Nkaneng realised there was a Nyala with barbed wire which was about to close a gap between itself and the kraal. They ran before the gap was closed.”
He then questioned Mkhwanazi on his earlier statements to the commission, that public order police (Pop) had to leave a channel for people to use to disperse.
“It is true,” Mkhwanazi said.
“I said a warning should first be given twice for the participants (of a strike). That warning is also given to bystanders so that the people will be able to move to get transport and be able to get home.”
He said on August 16, police intended to roll the barbed wire out first, then inform the protesters about its purpose. He said the wire was not meant to encircle protesters, but to protect journalists and police officers, Mkhwanazi said.
“They started with the deployment of the barbed wire. Giving the protesters a warning was supposed to come afterwards. I am told that as the barbed wire was being deployed, the protesters tried to breach it.”
Mkhwanazi was not part of the police intervention at the wage-related strikes at Marikana. He was called to the commission to give “expert opinion” on crowd management.
Mmusi asked Mkhwanazi whether the deployment of barbed wire at strikes did not always trigger the movement of protesters who feared being encircled and arrested.
Mkhwanazi responded: “I have said the normal purpose of barbed wire is to protect structures that could be destroyed by protesters. On [August] 16 it was different, it was deployed for another purpose.
“To say it triggers (movement of protesters) or not, the barbed wire is not an animal. It's not a lion that we bring in and people start to jump.”
Earlier, Mmusi questioned Mkhwanazi on whether there were enough Pop unit members deployed to contain the thousands of protesters on August 16.
“How would 98 Pop members handle a crowd of 3000 people? Is it possible for them to handle a crowd of this magnitude?” Mmusi asked.
Mkhwanazi said it was.
“We looked at the mission, which is to disperse, encircle, disarm and arrest the people. Before anything was going to be done, a warning was going to be given.
“There were other teams on stand-by there. That (mission) was achievable. It doesn't mean when you have the 50 participants of a strike, you don't need to have 50 (police) members. We are dealing with people here, we can talk to them.”
The hearing continues.
The judicial commission, led by retired judge Ian Farlam, 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 wounded when the police opened fire on them while trying to disperse a group gathered on a hill near Lonmin's platinum 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 was given four months to complete its work. - Sapa