Marikana: Death threats again in the spotlight at Farlam

Amcu members protesting the killing of their colleagues during the Farlam Commission. (Gallo)

Amcu members protesting the killing of their colleagues during the Farlam Commission. (Gallo)

Reports of the threats on Thursday have once again highlighted the issue of protection of witnesses at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry.

The commission is investigating the fatal shooting of 34 miners at the Lonmin mine, at Marikana in the North West, on August 16 last year.

Several witnesses, union leaders and community members at Marikana have been murdered since August 16.

On Thursday, counsel for the police, advocate Vuyani Ngalwana, said the man, whom he did not name, had given a statement to the police that was read out to the commission.

"The man has received threats on his life via sms and email. We are extremely distressed by this," Ngalwana said.

However, he stressed that the man would not be called as a witness.

'Extremely worried'
Commission chairperson, retired judge Ian Farlam, said the commission did not intend calling the man as a witness, either.

He said the commission was extremely worried about the murders of witnesses and those perceived to be witnesses. Farlam issued a warning to those who had threatened the man that they would be brought to book.

"This is very distressing.
We've already had a number of deaths before, on and after August 16 in relation to people who either were going to give evidence or thought they were going to give evidence.

"So, if someone is minded to do something violent to this person, that is a matter that shouldn't arise, because this person is not going to give evidence.

"Anyone who is foolish or wicked enough to consider killing the person concerned should expect the full weight of the law to be applied against him. And that will be investigated with the full resources at the SAPS' disposal," Farlam said.

Evidence leader, advocate Mbuyisela Madlanga, added that the man's statement did not implicate any specific individuals, and that no one should feel threatened by that evidence.

Witness protection an 'extreme measure'
The Mail & Guardian reported in June that the commission offers witness protection to all those giving evidence.

The witness list is a closely-guarded secret to protect those who are due to testify.

But witness protection is a severe measure and legal teams representing some of the witnesses have not recommended this option to them, as they feel it is an "impractical" measure.

Witness protection involves being taken out of one's community for varied periods of time. In extreme cases, witnesses will have to change their names and start a new life at a location decided by the state.

However, at least one man interviewed by the M&G said he would consider this option, given the extreme climate of fear, mistrust and violence at Marikana.

Some lawyers representing witnesses at the Farlam Commission, who spoke on condition of anonymity, have arranged their own form of witness protection, by booking their clients into hotels.

Meanwhile, deputy provincial police commissioner of the North West, William Mpembe continued to give evidence at the commission on Thursday.

He told the commission that the police had planned to disperse the Marikana miners on August 16 by dividing them into groups of no more than ten. The plan involved searching them for weapons and arresting those found in possession.

The commission is expected to adjourn on Friday and resume on July 15.

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans

Sarah Evans interned at the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley for three years before completing an internship at the Mail & Guardian Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane). She went on to work as a Mail & Guardian news reporter with areas of interest including crime, law, governance and the nexus between business and politics.  Read more from Sarah Evans

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