/ 1 October 2012

Farlam commission launches into Marikana shooting

The Marikana commission and the parties involved in the inquiry has begun the inspection of the places where the killings happened.
The Marikana commission and the parties involved in the inquiry has begun the inspection of the places where the killings happened.

The inspection unfolded like a macabre field trip, with scores of people armed with notebooks, tablets, microphones and cameras, trailing the commission every step of the way.

Despite the heat of the day, commission chairperson, retired judge Ian Farlam, dressed in a pinstripe suit and carrying a beige floral umbrella, patiently followed as he was led from point-to-point.

The commission's in loco inspection, set up to investigate the August shooting at Marikana, has revealed that the bodies of miners were not limited to a specific area as video footage led many to believe, but were in fact spread out over a vast area.

On Monday, crime scene experts led the commission and those involved in the inquiry on an inspection of the area near Marikana where 44 people lost their lives. They were accompanied by a host of national and international media.

Warrant Officer Patrick Thamae showed the commission where evidence had been discovered at scene one. Sixteen people were killed in this general area – seven where television crews first captured images of the shooting. Another five bodies were found beside a kraal and another in a dirt road nearby.

Thamae pointed out where he found casings for rubber shotgun bullets, R5 rifles and pistols, where stun grenades had been used and where police had positioned their vehicles and set up barbed wire.

Echoes of Marinovich claims
The inspection was then taken over by Captain Apollo Mohlaki, who showed the commission where evidence had been retrieved at scene two – the area that has come to be known by some as the "small koppie" or even the "killing koppie".

It was here that photojournalist Greg Marinovich first put forward the theory that police had hunted down many of the miners who were killed on the day. Referring to the place where the 14th body found near the small koppie was found, Marinovich wrote: "It is clear that to shoot N, the shooter would have to be close. Very close, in fact, almost within touching distance."

Marinovich came under fire after making these claims in both the Daily Maverick and the Mail & Guardian, with many saying he had relied on conjecture and had no forensic evidence to back his claims.

Although crime scene experts did not speculate on what happened on the day of the shooting, their descriptions of where the bodies were found appear to lend weight to some of Marinovich's claims.

In one instance, Mohlaki pointed out a spot where two bodes were found, nestled in the crevice between two rocks. Not far away, another body was found in the thorny underbrush between large rocks.

A third body, described as being "surrounded by tradition weapons" and "shot once", was found in the middle of an open field, more than a kilometre from where police shot seven miners in the open area near the large koppie.

Anglican Bishop Jo Seoka, who was present at the inspection, was heard remarking that the miners had been caught "not between a rock and a hard place but between a rock and a bullet".

The in loco inspection will continue on Tuesday with visits to other sites that are critical to the commission’s understanding of what led up to the events on August 16, and how the shooting unfolded.

Farlam powers on
Earlier on Monday, lawyers for the survivors and for the victims' families requested a 14-day postponement in order to gather further evidence. The SAPS said it would not oppose the application but other parties objected, saying there was no reason to stall proceedings.

Farlam denied the request and told parties he expected them to lead evidence on Wednesday.

Before this happens, there will be a viewing of available video footage documenting the events on August 16. The commission has requested that media houses in possession of unedited footage from the day hand this over to the commission to help the investigation.

"We ask for the cooperation of the media organisations. I do not see how the footage can be prejudicial to anybody," he said.

Media under scrutiny
The media came under scrutiny from state security officials on Monday and were at first prevented from entering the auditorium where the hearings were held.

Journalists were directed to a press briefing where it was revealed that, in keeping with rules earlier set out by the Supreme Court of Appeal, only one video camera and one photographer would be allowed to document the proceedings once formal sittings began on Wednesday.

Print journalists were told that, although they would be allowed into the venue on Monday, they would have to undergo a state security vetting process in order to get accreditation to report on the formal sitting.

Farlam said this should not prevent anyone from attending and, should they fail the vetting process, could refer the matter directly to him.

Except for the media, state officials and representatives from the parties involved, the events on Monday were poorly attended. None of the seats set aside for the victims' families appeared to have been filled.

This may change in coming weeks, as the social development department has been asked to help with arrangements to extend support to allow the families to attend the hearings.