A series of police photographs shown at the Farlam commission on Monday caused a stir as they appeared to reveal that police had tampered with the crime scene by planting and shifting weapons around the lifeless bodies of miners slain during the August 16 Marikana massacre.
The photographs, apparently taken by Captain Jeremiah Mohlaki and a police colleague identified as Warrant Officer Ramanala, were taken at different times of the crime scene investigation process and sparked calls for an urgent investigation into who ordered the tampering of the scene.
The commission was then told by South African Police Services advocate Ishmael Semenya that an investigation had been launched by the police commissioner, Ria Phiyega, two weeks ago when the photographs were brought to her attention.
Advocate George Bizos of the Legal Resources Centre said an investigation launched by the police commissioner into this serious offence could only be self-service, a remark which was criticised by Semenya, who failed to see the usefulness of the utterance.
Commission chairperson Ian Farlam said the commission would leave no stone unturned in investigating this matter, while evidence leader Mbuyiseli Madlanga said that the very existence of the photographs as part of evidence indicated that the commission was investigating thoroughly.
As part of the opening statements, Semenya revealed that his clients would argue that they had responded to the provocation from armed miners, especially in the series of killings which took place at scene two, on koppie two.
Mohlaki, appearing not to defend the allegations of police interference with the crime scene, answered in the affirmative when asked by advocate Dali Mpofu whether the "traditional weapons" arrived between the "daylight and the dark", in reference to when the constrasting photos were taken.
A significant part of the afternoon was devoted to arguments about how the commission should proceed in its investigation of culpability, with evidence leaders arguing for priority to be given to the culpability of the police and the miners. The logic of this argument was that some miners were facing provisionally withdrawn criminal charges and would benefit from speedy assessment of their culpability.
This argument was countered quite vociferously by Semenya, who argued that the police's use of force was made in the context of actions by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and Lonmin.
Semenya argued that the police's conduct should be viewed through the prism of the relevant legislation and standing orders to establish whether "the situation they found themselves in permitted their action" and "whether by act or omission" they contributed to the tragic situation.
"Throwing [the spotlight of] conduct exclusively at SAPS while not doing the same to Lonmin is unfair to the SAPS and is an illegal variance of the terms of reference of the commission," Semenya argued.
Semenya also stated that police had already been found guilty in the court of public opinion due to allegations of torture and execution-style shootings that he said were made without substance.
The commission resumes on Tuesday morning with a police presentation.