National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyegah seems to be treated "like a child who needed to be told what do say or do", according to police insiders.
It is arguably too scathing an assessment, but the controversy surrounding the presence of an aide during the first day of her evidence-in-chief at the Farlam commission of inquiry on Thursday did little to mitigate against it.
Prior to the lunchtime adjournment on Thursday, an objection was raised by evidence leader Mbuyiseli Madlanga about the “unacceptable” nature of Major General Tshegofatso Rantho’s assistance to her, as Madlanga claimed to have seen whispering between the two, suggesting that Phiyega was possibly being assisted in answering questions by the legal counsel for the South African Police Service (SAPS), advocate Ishmael Semenya.
Earlier on, an objection had been raised by advocate George Bizos on behalf of the Legal Resources Centre about the fact that Semenya was “reading out opening statements for her to confirm”, as opposed to asking her [about SAPS] “policy and what she knows about it".
Weighing in, the legal counsel for the injured and arrested miners, advocate Dali Mpofu, later said that having someone next to the witness was uncalled for, as she had neither been introduced nor sworn in.
Rantho, the assistant in question, is a general in the South African Police Service and a legal advisor to Phiyega.
Furthermore, a minor but telling amendment of an earlier statement was read into the record by Semenya, altering her statement to say that she had told Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa that she would attend to the aftermath of the massacre personally, after an initial version that said that he had told her to attend to the matter.
During her testimony, Phiyega said Lieutenant General Zukiswa Mbombo had called her on the afternoon of August 16 2012 and informed her of the decision to implement the dispersal operation of the plan.
Later that day, Mbombo called her again, apparently telling her that, "protesters had charged at the police with dangerous weapons. She said police had been fired at and they had shot back and killed 34 people, but had done so in self-defence."
After speaking to Mthethwa, Phiyega said she had travelled to Lonmin, where she was briefed by Mbombo and four other police officials, agreeing that they would hold a press briefing only the following day.
As part of her evidence, a visual recording was shown of Phiyega addressing a gathering of police officers at the joint operations centre at Lonmin.
She told them of “processes that are taking place” and assured them that theirs was a journey that was “non-negotiable”.
She told the assembled members that: “What you did represents the best of responsible policing. You were making sure that you continue to live your oath, that South Africans are safe.
“I want to thank you for having done what you did and enduring the challenges that you endured. All we did was to do our jobs in the manner that which we are trained and we did it caringly by focusing on that which is our responsibility."
Minutes after the clip, Phiyega offered her condolences to the family members of the murdered miners attending the commission. One of the family members started weeping uncontrollably.
Phiyega will be cross-examined on Tuesday.