Miners’ assault: Police officers identified

This is according to police sources.

Although 44 miners had alleged they had been assaulted in custody, only 23 of the miners showed up for the identity parade set up by police watchdog the Independent Police Investigative Directorate.

A few police officers were arrested by the directorate after the identity parade on Thursday. The spokesperson for police in the North West, Brigadier Thulani Ngubane, confirmed that some of the police officers who were called to the identity parade and subsequently arrested were officers from his province.

One of the police officers arrested was North West deputy police commissioner Lieutenant General William Mpembe, who was accused of being present when some of the miners were assaulted in custody. Mpembe is now demanding R1-million in damages from the minister of police for arresting him without a warrant.

Mpembe's attorney, Carel Taute, denied that Mpembe had been on the scene at the time of the assaults. Last week, Ngubane said that Mpembe had been with President Jacob Zuma in Mahikeng when the assaults allegedly took place.

Asked whether Mpembe had been positively identified by the alleged assault victims, Taute said this was not relevant to the case.

"It is common cause that anything that happens is of no consequence if someone was not on the scene," said Taute. "You also cannot arrest someone for assault without a warrant, which was what happened to my client."

Taute said Mpembe had been asked to attend the identity parade  and had then been arrested and held in custody for about eight hours. He was released with a warning to appear in court.

Mpembe had gone to court, Taute said, but he had not been present on that occasion. However, he said he was informed that the prosecutor was reluctant to press charges.

"It's clear that no proper investigation was done," he said. "I believe the charges relate to injuries in the cells while police were sent to search for cellphones."

The assault charges against Mpembe are believed to relate to the incidents that took place at Bethanie police station in Brits in the North West.

More than 270 Lonmin miners were arrested following the Marikana massacre when 34 protesters were allegedly shot by police during a protest over wages at the mines.

The National Prosecuting Authority later inexplicably charged the miners with murder in relation to the deaths of protesters, but the charges were withdrawn after a worldwide outcry.

While in police custody, the miners were allegedly visited in their cells by 10 police officers. The M&G was told that the miners claim that the police officers tried to persuade them not to lay complaints against the police for the shootings at Marikana and tried to intimidate them into making confessions.

Moses Dlamini, the spokesperson for the directorate, said he was unable to comment. "The initial communication on this matter indicated that the Independent Police Investigative Directorate would conduct an investigation into the allegations of assault and provide the minister of police,  [Nathi] Mthethwa, with a report containing its recommendations," said Dlamini.

"The report is still being compiled and it will be submitted to the police minister in the next few days."

Dlamini said that, until that process was concluded, the directorate would not comment further.

However, the details about what transpired in Mpembe's case emerged after the police's legal department was told by his lawyers that they were demanding R1-million from Mthethwa and police commissioner Mangwashi Phiyega for arresting the senior officer without a warrant. The letter, which the M&G has in its possession, provides more detail than the directorate is willing to reveal at this stage. "Our client was arrested without a warrant of arrests at Brits SAPS on 13 September 2012 between 16h00 and 17h00 on a charge of assault with the intention to do grievous bodily harm," it reads.

Mpembe's arrest apparently related to alleged assaults in police cells at Bethanie police station on August 21, the letter states.

Politically sensitive
"Our client was not present at the scene. He was then detained until 00h30, when attorney Mokotedi assisted our client to be warned for court."

The letter asks why it was necessary to arrest a senior police officer "without proper evidence and investigation. We find it shocking to say the least that an arrest would take place where it is clear that our client was not at the scene".

The letter stated that it was hoped that this was not the sign of a witch-hunt that might follow the "politically sensitive" Marikana situation.

"We put it on record that our client's rights were infringed as was his fama and dignitas. To arrest a senior police officer in this manner is unacceptable and against the spirit of the constitution."

Stating that it is claiming R1-million in damages for Mpembe,  the letter goes on to say that, unless the law firm is paid in 14 days, a summons will follow. The bank account of Mpembe's law firm, Potgieter, Penzhorn and Taute, is enclosed at the end of the letter.

But there appears to be no move by the police to pay up for damages to Mpembe. Police ministry spokesperson Zweli Mnisi said he had not yet seen the letter and could not comment on the assault case until he had received the report from the directorate.

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Glynnis Underhill
Glynnis Underhill has been in journalism for more years than she cares to remember. She loves a good story as much now as she did when she first started. The only difference is today she hopes she is giving something back to the country.

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