The former police minister had the opportunity to give the commission his version of events, but used it instead to show off his fancy footwork.
Former police minister Nathi Mthethwa made it clear at the Marikana commission this week to advocate Dali Mpofu, who represents the injured and arrested miners, that he doesn’t answer the same question twice.
Things got heated a number of times during Mthethwa’s testimony, especially during his cross-examination by Mpofu. It was clear that Mthethwa was not going to be pressurised into submission as he side-stepped a number of attempts by advocates to pin him down.
This did little to strengthen Mthethwa’s argument that he did not bow to or exert any undue political pressure during the Marikana operations. Mthethwa also refused to take responsibility on behalf of the state or police for what happened on August 16 2012, when 34 striking miners were fatally shot and over 70 wounded by police.
Mthethwa faced accusations that it was his alleged intervention in the operations at Marikana that may have triggered the ensuing killings.
Mthethwa has admitted to receiving communications from Cyril Ramaphosa – who was ANC deputy president and a Lonmin board member at the time – and National Union of Mineworkers president Senzeni Zokwana during the week preceding what has become known as the Marikana massacre, expressing their concern about the deaths, damage to property and apparent lack of police presence on the ground.
He has also confessed to being in contact with both the provincial and national police commissioners in the week leading up to the massacre.
But his evidence earlier this week came across as contradictory regarding his level of “interference”. Mthethwa himself made it quite clear on day one, while he was still giving his evidence in chief, that his role as police minister was one of political responsibility, oversight of the police, determining and formulating policy and had nothing to do with operational matters.
Yet he was quick to say that any person would expect the minister of police to react when such issues are raised with him and he would have been “criticised in the extreme” had he not contacted the relevant heads of police in light of the events that were unfolding.
Mpofu told Mthethwa: “[You did this] because you knew that the content of those communications was unlawful and improper and constituted political pressure, that’s why you concealed them deliberately.”
Mthethwa claimed that this was merely an oversight on his part and that he had since endeavoured to provide the commission with his phone records for the sake of transparency. He also denied that he had pushed either of the commissioners to hide their communications with him.
But Mpofu argued that it was only after the evidence leaders had unearthed certain information that Mthethwa added his conversation with Lieutenant General Zukiswa Mbombo to his supplementary statement.
Mpofu described Mthethwa as the conduit through which political pressure was relayed from Ramaphosa through to Mbombo and the police “killers”.
Advocate Dali Mpofu has called for Mthethwa to be charged with murder as he believes the former police minister triggered the massacre. (Reuters)
Mpofu criticised Mthethwa for mentioning Ramaphosa’s name in his conversation with Mbombo, saying: “You knew very well by mentioning the name of the caller it would achieve your intended purpose, which was to transmit the pressure towards the operational management.”
It was argued by Mpofu that it was these political considerations that influenced the timing of the operation and that the deaths were influenced by the “rush” to take action.
Should it emerge that Mthethwa was indeed a catalyst in the events that took place in Marikana on August 16 2012, he could face very serious consequences, with Mpofu informing the commission that he will recommend that Mthethwa be charged with murder.
Another recurring theme in Mthethwa’s testimony and indeed in the commission on the whole is the issue of accountability.
There has been a notable lack of accountability for the shootings that took place at Marikana, with both the government and the police refusing to take some form of responsibility for the tragedy.
One of the exhibits shown to the commission this week was a bold newspaper headline – “We are not sorry” – the words uttered and then later denied by national police commissioner Riah Phiyega, a few days after the massacre.
Again, Mthethwa’s evidence was contradictory in this regard, jumping from accepting vague responsibility to digging in his heels when it came to verbalising an apology.
Mthethwa continually side-stepped questions from a number of advocates about his responsibility with regard to the Marikana massacre. He repeatedly stated that it was up to the commission and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate to uncover the truth of what happened in that week. He also admitted that he had not implemented any internal investigations to run parallel with the commission.
But to advocate George Bizos, on behalf of the Legal Resources Centre, Mthethwa conceded that, “as the political head of the time, I’d be responsible for all the things that the police were doing”.
Michelle le Roux, on behalf of the South African Human Rights Commission, asked Mthethwa whether he would accept that the South African Police Service could have been one of the parties that played a role in things going terribly wrong at Marikana. Yet again, Mthethwa’s response was vague.
“Even though you are asking me to speculate, I’m sure anything is possible. I’m sure we’d be able to unearth the exact happenings through this commission,” he said.
Under Mpofu’s cross-examination, Mthethwa said that the state would be happy to apologise to the victims and families of the Marikana shootings, should the commission find that it was the state’s duty to apologise, and accused Mpofu of “prejudging the process”.
He did admit, however, that the state was “pained” by what had happened and that they had shown their remorse by apologising to the people of Marikana a few days after the massacre.
It was only after continuous badgering by Mpofu that Mthethwa gave a straightforward apology to those affected by the Marikana incidents. “We are sorry for what happened on that particular week,” Mthethwa said.