Police testimony discredits witnesses at Farlam commission

The Farlam commission of inquiry. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The Farlam commission of inquiry. (Oupa Nkosi, M&G)

The seemingly innocuous and episodic police presentation of events leading up to August 16 continues to punch holes in the credibility of the police witnesses that have presented testimony before the Farlam commission of inquiry.

The police presentation, apparently giving an objective run down of events taking place between August 9 and August 16 presents little in the form of new information and yet creates a startling new picture of exactly how coordinated and regimented the police response to August 16 was.

It was perhaps fitting that, in a moment of self-conscious musing, Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Scott stopped himself after giving an unrelenting rundown of the tactical operational plan to say: "The operational commanders' understanding of the operational plan is something that needs to be tested with them."

It is a curious remark, especially considering what is now in the public domain about what transpired beyond the police’s barbed wire barrier, away from public view. The presentation, largely presented by Colonel Victor Visser before Scott handled the events of August 16 shed light on the police’s six-point plan, which they seemed resolute to carry out until the end, despite the interruption it suffered on that fateful Thursday.

The plan, implemented on August 14, involved negotiation, then negotiation with a show of force, a tactical option for resolution, the processing of arrested protestors, an intelligence-driven round of follow up arrests and a raid of the hostels to disarm the miners.

The Wonderkop hostel, where a significant number of the striking miners resided, was eventually raided in a pre-dawn operation that netted a significant load of so-called traditional weapons. The massacre then, if we accept the police report, represented stage three, as the "tactical option to resolve the situation".

While the presentation presents the police as tireless, if appropriate negotiators, it also presents their first significant witness Lieutenant Colonel Johannes Botha as an equally tireless liar, as he spent a significant time on the stand denying knowledge of the helicopter’s precise briefs, which were revealed to be to record video footage and direct tactical forces to specific locations.

While the video presents a somewhat civilised portrait of the police, it is important to note that this portrait was achieved by tactically painting the miners muti-crazed Amcu supporters.

Although the police appear humane up to this point, Thursday’s proceedings adjourned before we got to the critical point of the police unleashing firepower.
The slow build up, with a team by team breakdown of weapons and manpower, raises chilling questions about exactly how, in their heads, the police saw this tactical disarmament unfolding.

Perhaps they were open to killing a few people, until scene two happened.

The inquiry continues on Friday.

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo

Kwanele Sosibo studied journalism at Durban's ML Sultan Technikon before working at Independent Newspapers from 2000 to 2003. In 2005, he joined the Mail & Guardian's internship programme and later worked as a reporter at the paper between 2006 and 2008, before working as a researcher. He was the inaugural Eugene Saldanha Fellow in 2011. Read more from Kwanele Sosibo

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