A senior police officer has told the Farlam commission that an "excited" Lonmin employee instructed police to confront a peaceful protest group.
An “excited” Lonmin security manager instructed police to confront a peaceful group of protesters on August 10 2012, the Farlam commission of inquiry heard on Thursday.
“It was peaceful and there were no incidents recorded. I was among the protesters while the procession was taking place. I didn’t see any threats that they had against us at that moment,” said Major Veerasamy Velayudam Govender. The senior police officer, stationed at Marikana, had commanded the visible policing section. He was led in submitting his evidence on Thursday by the commission’s Charles Wesley.
“During the time when you were observing the crowd, did you see anybody in the crowd carrying weapons? Did you observe any indications that the crowd could become violent?” Wesley asked. “I recall they had sticks in their hands but there was nothing dangerous I took note of,” Govender replied.
“Like I have said, I was among those people and I didn’t see threats against us. In a situation like that, looking at the capacity of the protesters, it’s safer to let the protesters get on to their destination.”
He said Lonmin security risk manager Dirk Botes approached him and urged him to disperse the crowd. “Did Mr Botes tell you why it was required by him that the South African Police Service should disperse the crowd?” asked Wesley. “I don’t recall why he asked me. No reason was given to me on why I should remove the people,” Govender responded.
“He said I must go there and just make sure they [protesters] should leave the place.”
‘He was excited’
According to evidence by Lonmin security officials, the protesters had knobkerries, pangas, and spears, and had intimidated mine employees. Govender said he did not see the intimidation and the dangerous weapons.
There was a confrontation that evening between the protesters and Lonmin security guards. The guards fired rubber bullets at the crowd. Lonmin security manager Graeme Sinclair testified that he told Botes to calm down as he was very vocal at the time.
Govender agreed. “He was like giving me an instruction to disperse the people. I can say he was excited ... ,” said Govender. He said he had refused to disperse the crowd.
The commission, chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam, is investigating the deaths of 44 people during strike-related violence at Lonmin’s platinum mining operations at Marikana, near Rustenburg in North West, in August 2012.
Thirty-four people, mostly striking mineworkers, were shot dead in a clash with police, over 70 were wounded, and over 250 arrested on August 16 2012. Police were apparently trying to disarm and disperse them. In the preceding week, 10 people, including two police officers and two Lonmin security guards, were killed. – Sapa