North West police deputy commissioner Lieutenant General William Mpembe has been accused of being present when some Lonmin miners were assaulted in custody.
The Mail & Guardian has been reliably informed that Mpembe is one of 10 police officers accused of visiting police stations where the miners were held after the massacre at Marikana last month. The group was accused of assaulting the miners after visiting them in their cells, allegedly to search them.
The M&G has learnt that the miners claimed the group tried to persuade them not to lay complaints against the police for the shootings at Marikana, and had tried to intimidate them to get confessions.
Official comment from the police watchdog, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, which is undertaking the investigation into the assaults at five police stations, and the police about Mpembe's involvement were not forthcoming.
About 94 cases of assault have been opened against police, although many more affidavits have been taken. In some cases, the alleged victims were beaten so badly that they were unable to open their eyes.
The details of what happened in cells at police stations in and around Rustenburg in North West emerged last week when Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa released a statement saying he had received a preliminary report about police officers who were alleged to have assaulted some of the detainees linked to the Marikana incident.
Abuse of power
The directorate made arrangements for the victims to get medical attention, Mthethwa said. Officers who did not uphold the law, abused their powers and assaulted detainees did not have a place in the police, he said.
About 194 affidavits have been taken by directorate investigators on how miners were allegedly beaten.
Cases of assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm and attempted murder have been opened.
"They arrested miners with no evidence, and were trying to extract confessions by assaulting them," said a senior source in the criminal justice system. "It is the same old apartheid trick."
The directorate has confirmed that the miners would appear as witnesses in cases brought against the police, but an identity parade earlier this week was called off because of the large media presence outside the Brits police station.
Brigadier Thulani Ngubane, police spokesperson for the North West, recently disclosed the involvement of the police. He told City Press there was "an instruction that members must go to police station cells and search the accused for cellphones they were not supposed to have".
Mpembe was the senior officer at the joint operations centre, which was co-ordinating activities relating to the massacre, Ngubane told the newspaper.
Ngubane also confirmed that the joint operations centre issued the order for the arrested miners to be searched.
ANC MP Annelize van Wyk, the acting chairperson of Parliament's portfolio committee on police, said recently she would call for North West provincial commissioner Lieutenant General Zukiswa Mbombo to appear before the committee. Mbombo is Mpembe's senior officer in the province.
The claims that arrested miners were assaulted come at a time when South Africa is still considering legislation to make torture a crime.
The Prevention and Combating of Torture of Persons Bill, now before Parliament, is expected to address the issue. At present, the courts treat cases of torture as assault or attempts to do grievous bodily harm.
Mpembe was accused in July of being present when North West traffic officer Stephen Phoko was allegedly beaten up by Mpembe's bodyguard who broke Phoko's leg and dislocated his shoulder.
Sunday World ran the story under the headline, "Cops broke my bones as deputy chief watched".
"His own bodyguard, in his presence, broke my leg and dislocated my shoulder," Phoko claimed.
Mpembe was hauled before the provincial legislature to explain his role in the matter, the report stated.