Farlam commission dominated by sideshows

The most significant event was the appearance of five miners arrested in the aftermath of the swoop on Lonmin strikers. Sithembele Sohadi, Tholakele Dlunga, Loyisa Matsheketshe, Zamikhaya Nduda and Anele Kola were released on Monday – apparently on bail of R5 000 each – and appeared briefly at the commission on Tuesday afternoon.

The spotlight, though, remained fixed on Lieutenant Colonel Johan Botha as he seemed to lose credibility with every moment spent on the stand while giving evidence for the fourth consecutive session about scenes he witnessed and shot footage of.

A crime scene expert with over 26 years of experience, Botha told the commission that August 13 and 16 were the only two times he shot footage from the air, yet he remembered virtually nothing of what became of his footage in subsequent police meetings.

Botha began the day under cross-examination from advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, who represents families of some of the deceased miners, answering questions relating to police protocol surrounding the documentation of crime scenes.

Referring to Botha's video as similar to a National Geographic landscape video, Ntsebeza inferred that Botha's mission on August 16 was, in fact, to conceal as much of what transpired as possible.

He also presented Botha as a man with no regard for police protocol as he did not note breaks in filming or record the soundtrack of the film. Botha would later say that the standing order [with protocols] being read by Ntsebeza applied to public order police and not local criminal record centre, under whose jurisdiction Botha fell.

He also said he began filming at the spur of the moment which may account for some of the deficiencies in his film. Over the course of 24 hours since Monday, Botha advanced two differing theories for why he did not zoom more into what was happening on the ground; first stating that his camera would shake each time he tried to zoom and, on Tuesday, stating that he "didn't know what was happening [on the ground] and had difficulty [zooming because he was] filming from the side of the chopper".

While being examined by Ntsebeza, Botha explained that he was not aware of any other footage captured on the day and was not even sure whether it was screened at a nine-day planning meeting attended by the top brass of the South African Police Service in Potchefstroom.

Several legal counsels cross-examined Botha, but arguably the most effective on this day was Lonmin representative, advocate Schalk Burger, who punched several holes in Botha's testimony.

For example, Botha said he could not remember whether his chopper was in constant radio communication with the joint operations centre yet he admitted that the order to descend was uttered via the radio. Botha also claimed not to know what a certain Brigadier Frits was doing on the helicopter but he eventually admitted that the firing of stun grenades from the aircraft was ordered by Frits.

Botha's film, labelled irrelevant by Burger, was also the subject of scrutiny relating to the Potchefstroom meeting, where police apparently prepared for this commission. Botha, in what was a second day ridden with amnesia, claimed he could not remember the contents of the nine-day convention, neither the screening of his film. A typical exchange under Burger's examination went:

Burger: Am I correct in assuming that the main discussion was the killing of people at scene one and scene two?
Botha: Yes that was a part of the discussion.
Burger: What was said about scene one?
Botha: I do not remember what was said … A lot of things were said, I was there to give feedback about the processes of the [centre] … It's not that I wasn't interested. It was obviously discussed.

Botha was succeeded by a number of witnesses, who shed little in the way of evidence. The proceedings adjourned soon after Captain Jeremiah Mohlaki took the stand.

The commission continues on Wednesday.

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Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo
Kwanele Sosibo is the editor of Friday, the arts and culture section of the Mail and Guardian.
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