Marikana: Photos a product of police chaos

Indications are that the police inadvertently supplied contradictory evidence to the Farlam commission of inquiry in Rustenburg this week.

Two sets of photographs taken at different times showed miners with and without traditional weapons, suggesting that the crime scene had been tampered with. As part of its statements, the South African Police Service's counsel, advocate Ishmael Semenya, revealed that his clients would argue that they had responded to the provocation from armed miners, especially regarding the series of killings that took place on the smaller koppies.

An insider close to the commission told the Mail & Guardian that there had been at least three rounds of submissions from the police, but with the police service being a "multiheaded hydra", the photographs were supplied separately in the response to requests for more information.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it would have made sense for the police to have known about every bit of information being released only "if Marikana was ordered from the top and the commissioner knew about everything, but it was an overfastidious security response to the fact that two policemen had been killed earlier and the response was a wave that was not co-ordinated".

Independent researcher David Bruce painted a somewhat different picture. "The operational response services division of the SAPS was deployed at Marikana. It involves the public order policing, tactical response team, the special task force, national intervention unit and the air wing. In terms of senior officials, Major General William Mpembe was the senior line commander of operational response services in North West.

Alleged involvement
"Several miners tortured immediately afterwards identified Mpembe as being one of the people involved. He was also in one of the helicopters and observed the massacre from the air."

Mpembe was also arrested and detained on a charge of assault for his alleged involvement in the assault of miners at Bethanie Police Station. He alleged that he was not at the scene and demanded R1-million for wrongful arrest.  

The national head of the operational response services division is Lieutenant General Elias Mawela.

Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies said the evidence might have come as a "huge surprise" to those responsible for the apparent planting of evidence, "but then those that took the photographs may not have known that the scene was being manipulated".

According to the information the commission has received, national police commissioner General Riah Phiyega ordered an investigation as soon as she found out about the supposed manipulation, apparently two weeks ago, but Burger stressed that it was clear that the police would not have divulged information about the pictures if not prompted to do so by the advocates.

Public-order policing
"Phiyega, because of her inexperience and lack of familiarity with procedures, standing orders and how the law deals with crime scenes, may have been misled and given the improper advice," Burger said.

"It reflects extremely badly on the police and their image has been severely tarnished over the years, stretching back to Jackie Selebi."

Burger said the problem with the police force was not its militarisation, but rather poor oversight and command control that, when taken together, create a picture of a police force in total collapse and unable to function professionally.

"The police, to their credit, had started to investigate what happened in Ficksburg [where local teacher Andries Tatane was killed] with regard to public-order policing.

"I participated in one of those workshops and a new policy for crowd management was drafted and circulated for comment. The draft policy document started a new training curriculum, but before its finalisation Marikana occurred. It came at the worst possible time for public-order policing and policing in general and will have a delaying effect [on its implementation]."

On the Marikana Commission's witness stand, Captain Jeremiah Mohlaki appeared not to defend the allegations of police interference with the crime scene by answering 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 contrasting photos were taken.

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.

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