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Marikana miner describes brutal police treatment

Gabi Falanga

A witness has described how police shot mercilessly at miners who had run to the smaller koppie and hidden behind rocks and bushes to try and escape.

A miner has described in chilling detail how police shot at surrendering strikers at what has become known as scene two at Marikana. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

A miner has described in chilling detail how police shot at surrendering strikers at what has become known as scene two at Marikana. He also described at the Farlam commsion on Monday the rough treatment he and other arrested miners endured at the hands of police.

Shadrack Mtshamba was a rock drill operator at Lonmin at the time of the August 2012 Marikana strike. On August 16 34 miners were shot by police, half of them in a volley of police fire at the koppie in what is known as scene one. The others, who had run away to try and escape the police shooting, were shot at scene two.

Mtshamba described how police shot mercilessly at miners who had run to the smaller koppie and hidden behind rocks and bushes to try and escape the shooting.

He told how a fellow miner had suggested that they surrender when police bullets started hitting the rocks where they were hiding. This miner was then shot by police despite lifting his arms up to demonstrate surrender. “He kept saying let us surrender, when another shot hit him in the stomach,” Mtshamba said.

“Another miner then raised his hands in surrender and was shot in his neck. He fell on his face,” Mtshamba told. “We then became afraid of surrendering because we would be shot.”

Feeling of terror
Mtshamba described his feeling of terror at the time. “There was some times that there was heavy shooting, then we’d bow our heads down. Then when it went quiet, we’d raise our heads to find out what was going on,” he said.

“For me it was the first time for me people being shot at live with naked eyes, I usually see it in the movies, it was the first time to see some things like this. The bullets were hitting rocks, [I was] not knowing when one bullet would catch me.”

Once the police ceased shooting, they asked the miners to come out from behind the rocks and lie down. They were then searched, kicked and instructed to crawl towards the police nyalas while having abuse hurled at them by South African Police Service members.

“Police told us we were useless because we killed police and the government, people who were doing nothing wrong. They said if we were in another country they would burn us,” Mtshamba maintained. He also told how police bragged about how they had shot at the miners.

Mtshamba and the other miners who survived the shooting were then arrested by police on charges of the killing of their 34 colleagues, possession of illegal firearms and for illegal gathering. “We were taken, told we were charged with murder, for killing the people who were with us. We had been on the koppie for a long time without killing each other, why would we kill our colleagues?” Mtshamba asked.

The arrested strikers were kept in police vehicles. “We were in trucks for quite some time on Lonmin premises, not knowing what was happening outside,”Mtshmaba said. “Some of us wanted to relieve ourselves. They refused us and some had to use the opening [in] the nyala.”

‘Hands against the wall
The treatment of the miners at the hands of police did not improve once they were taken to Bethani police station. “We were told to stand with our hands against the wall, searched, if no one was holding the wall, they would be slapped, kicked and searched,” Mtshamba explained.

“We were given blankets and were sleeping on the floor. The toilets were also not working, they were not flushing, there was water running around and the place was dirty. We were kept there for the whole day without food.”

Mtshamba says many of those who had been injured during the shootings were locked up together with them in the cells. “Other people were picked up whilst injured without receiving any treatment, they were locked up in prison, while they were full of blood, swelling on their bodies,” Mtshamba described.

 Advocate Dali Mpofu, who represents the injured and arrested miners, and was leading Mtshamba’s evidence showed the commission mugshot photos of some of the injured miners who had been locked up. They sport bloodied faces and clothing, swollen cheeks and eyes, and bruises.

Mtshamba, arrived at Marikana on August 14 from leave, after the strike had already started. He was not armed during the strike. “It would’ve been better if they [Lonmin] went and spoke to us instead of calling the police,” Mtshamba said. “I feel that we were humiliated a lot from the beginning, from where we were arrested.”

Mtshamba feels he is lucky to have survived the shooting, but is bitter that those who were actually responsible for the shooting have not been brought to book. “The people who were supposed to be arrested and charged [are] having a normal life, a good time, and we were arrested for killing our colleagues when we did not kill them … But the police are still walking freely, enjoying their lives.”

Wage demands
The witness also told the commission that the strikers did not only want to speak to Lonmin about their wage demands, but also about the lack of black people in senior positions at the mine. “There’s not a single white person who’s an RDO [rockdrill operator]. Even on the koppie, there was not a single white person who was demonstrating there,” Mtshamba said.

“All the white people are given high positions like chief mine captain … Lonmin was supposed to look at that, improve the conditions of black people so that they can be in power with their white colleagues. That’s one of the grievances we were going to put forward on the koppie.”

Mtshamba’s unsettling testimony comes a few days after the lives of the 34 dead miners were remembered at two year memorial events. Commissioner advocate Bantubonke Tokota read out the names of the miners who were killed on August 16 2012, where after the commission observed a minute of silence.

Mtshamba’s testimony continues on Tuesday.

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