Claassen inquiry: 'National management' ordered advance on Marikana miners, says witness

Suspended police commissioner Riah Phiyega. (M&G)

Suspended police commissioner Riah Phiyega. (M&G)

A police captain told the Claassen inquiry on Wednesday that orders to embark on a tactical operation to move in on protesting Marikana miners, which left 34 people dead, came from “national management”.

The Claassen board of inquiry is investigating suspended police commissioner Riah Phiyega’s fitness for office.

Read more: First big blow for Phiyega at Claassen inquiry

The Claassen board of inquiry was created by President Jacob Zuma to investigate suspended police chief Riah Phiyega’s fitness for office after damning allegations were made in the Farlam Commission report.

“At about 14:30 [on August 16, 2012], I received a message from Brigadier Calitz that all commanders must report at forward holding area 1. We were briefed by Lt-General Scott in the presence of Brigadier Pretorius,” said Captain Monwabisi Joseph Ntlati who was commanding the specialised Tactical Response Team police unit.

“During the briefing, we were informed that the national management instructed that the police must act against the armed strikers as they have to be disarmed and dispersed. The POP [public order police] members were to disperse the strikers and the TRT [Tactical Response Team] will encircle small groups and disarm them.”

Phiyega, flanked by her lawyers, sat attentively as Ntlati presented his statement to the board of inquiry chaired by Judge Neels Claassen.

The police officer was led by evidence leader, advocate Ismail Jamie SC, in presenting the sequence of events that led to the Marikana massacre in August 2012.

Jamie asked Ntlati to explain who comprised police management.

“When Colonel Scott used the term ‘national management’ who had instructed that you must act, who did you understand he was referring to?” Jamie asked.

“I understood that it was all the managers of the police, who are the ones instructing that we should act,” Ntlati responded.

Jamie asked again: “You say all the management. Who does that include?”

Ntlati said he understood the message was coming from police generals “and in their absence, it would be coming from those in charge”.

Unconvinced, Jamie asked again: “When police speak about national management, who are they referring to?”

Ntlati replied “national management” referred to the national commissioner and divisional commissioners of the police, but not include provincial top police officers.

The hearings were adjourned early on Wednesday as Phiyega’s attorney, William Mokhari SC, said he was not ready to cross-examine Ntlati.

Former police Brigadier Lindela Mashigo, who was in the SA Police Service communication unit, is also expected to testify at the inquiry after Ntlati.

Mashigo, who has been subpoenaed to testify on Thursday, is now spokesperson for the Tshwane municipality.

Jamie indicated to the inquiry that Mashigo will be “a substantial witness” when he testifies.

In September last year, President Jacob Zuma announced that he had set up the Claassen-led board of inquiry into Phiyega’s fitness to hold office. This follows recommendations made in the Farlam Commission report on the Marikana massacre that she be investigated after police misled the commission on what transpired on August 16, 2012.

Claasen chairs the three-member board. He is assisted by advocates Bernard Khuzwayo and Anusha Rawjee.

Phiyega’s actions in mid-August, 2012, when 34 miners were killed during a violent strike at the Lonmin mines in the North West in what is believed to be the biggest loss of life in a single police operation in post-apartheid South Africa, was heavily criticised by a commission of inquiry led by retired Judge Ian Farlam.

The terms of reference of the Claassen Inquiry include investigating whether Phiyega, acting with others in the South African Police Service leadership structures, “misled the [Farlam] Commission” by hiding the fact that they had authorised the “tactical option” during a management meeting on the day before the killings.

The Claassen Inquiry is also investigating whether Phiyega, while taking the decision to go the tactical route, could have foreseen the “tragic and catastrophic consequences which ensued”.

Phiyega’s testimony before the Farlam Commission would also come under scrutiny as the board would look into whether the evidence she presented during the inquiry “was in keeping with the office which she holds and the discharge of her duties commensurate therewith”. – African News Agency (ANA)



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