The credibility of "Mr X" as a witness was pushed into shaky territory when his cross-examination at the Marikana commission started this week.
It did not take evidence leader Geoff Budlender long to pick holes in the evidence of the man identified as “Mr X”, questioning his integrity as a witness.
The commission is investigating the deaths of 44 people who died during strike-related violence at Lonmin’s platinum mine at Marikana in the North West in August 2012.
Budlender compared claims Mr X made in a statement in March this year with evidence he gave before the commission. He also questioned why certain crucial details were mentioned in Mr X’s March 2014 statement but not in his original statement in February 2013.
During cross-examination on Thursday, Budlender suggested that, in fact, Mr X was not present during the clash between police and strikers on August 13 2012 as he claimed to be.
Budlender gave three reasons for this: “The first reason is that you are not in the photograph [taken on August 13, which you claimed you were in]. The second reason is that you did not know what actually happened on August 13 until after you had been taken into police protection, and, thirdly, your answers to the chairperson this morning show that even now you don’t know what happened on August 13.”
He pointed out different photographs in which Mr X had identified himself and pointed out differences in his clothing and facial features. He then demonstrated how Mr X in his 2013 statement claimed that the police had started shooting while Major General William Mpembe was counting down for the strikers to drop their weapons. But video evidence shows that the shooting only occurred after the countdown.
But Mr X insisted that he had been there, and gave the same response each time Budlender asked why important details had been left out of his February 2013 statement. “The gentleman who was taking my statement didn’t ask me thoroughly, but the gentleman who was taking the last statement interrogated me; that’s how he got more information,” Mr X told the commission.
Furthermore, Mr X claimed that he and the police officer who took his original statement misunderstood each other because of language differences – Mr X is isiXhosa-speaking and the police officer spoke ixiTsonga.
Eventually Mr X also acknowledged that he was confused when making the statement and expressed concern because he was not yet under police witness protection at the time.
On Tuesday, Budlender cast serious doubt over Mr X’s allegations that the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union’s president, Joseph Mathunjwa, had told the strikers to kill the president of the National Union of Mineworkers, Senzeni Zokwana.
During his testimony on Monday, Mr X claimed that Mathunjwa had phoned a fellow striker, Xolani Nzuza, on August 14 2012, seeking permission to go to the koppie that night to speak to the strikers. But Budlender used phone records to show that no calls were made between them.
Budlender pointed out that it was only on the morning of August 15 that Mathunjwa and Zokwana agreed during a radio interview with SAfm that they would go to Marikana that day to address strikers, and not on the previous day as claimed by Mr X.
Budlender told the commission that he would argue that Mr X’s evidence was a lie. He then reminded Mr X that he was under oath.
“You’ve said a lot of other disputed things also under oath. If the commission finds that you’ve not told the truth ... why should it believe the other things you’ve said under oath?”
But Mr X insisted that everything he told the commission was true. “I’m telling the truth, I’m prepared to go to the grave now,” he said.
Mr X, who is testifying on video link and under strict security conditions to protect his identity, became increasingly restless during his testimony, shifting around in his chair, rubbing his face and frowning.