Marikana’s tangled web unravels

A senior police officer who has been giving evidence at the Marikana commission since early September appears to be breaking ranks with the police to avoid being made the fall guy.

Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Scott, who is being cross-examined by the commission, helped to draft the police's dispersal and disarming plan to deal with striking miners at Lonmin's Marikana mine. On August 16 last year, police shot and killed 34 miners, which the commission is investigating.

Scott has made several startling revelations, which suggest a weakening of the uniformity that has typified the police's approach to the handling of evidence. Last month, the emergence of a hard drive kept by Scott revealed a serious concealment of documentation, a video and the manipulation of documents by the police, forcing the commission to adjourn for several days while it studied the new evidence.

It put paid to the authenticity of the police's "exhibit L", an unreliable construction of events, apparently concocted at a week-long police gathering in Potchefstroom in preparation for the commission.

This week advocate Matthew Chas­kalson SC, who is leading Scott's cross-examination, said the commission's evidence leaders had received a transcript of a conversation between Lonmin mine management and the provincial police commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo.

The meeting between Lonmin's executive vice-president of human capital and external affairs, Barnard Mokwena, and Mbombo took place the day before the massacre. In the transcript Mbombo reveals that both Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa and police commissioner Riah Phiyega told her (Mbombo) of pressure being put on them by Lonmin shareholder Cyril Ramaphosa to curtail the strike forcefully to prevent "political opportunism" from the likes of former ANC Youth League president Julius Malema and Themba Godi of the African People's Convention.

Gareth Newham, head of justice, governance and crime at the Institute for Security Studies, said this week: "He [Scott] is a professional, career-long policeman.

"One theory suggests that police operatives were trying to conduct the operation in a way that would force the least loss of life to themselves and the mineworkers but it looks like there was a lot of pressure from higher-ranking officials, like the provincial commissioner …

"Scott, it looks like, is not willing to lie outright but his memory seems to be failing him. He might be under pressure not to say certain things but it looks like he is not willing to take the fall because, had police acted without interference from the top, they wouldn't be in that situation."

But other observers are not as convinced of Scott's nobility. Filmmaker Rehad Desai, who is producing a film about the massacre, titled Miners Shot Down, believes it is the dogged pursuit of the evidence leaders that has shifted the Marikana narrative.

"It was through Matthew Chaskal­son's questioning that Scott revealed his hard drive. Now, he's on the back foot.

"He gave a presentation of the police plan at the beginning of the commission … [which] we now know was put together at Potch. [Earlier] he also handed over the laptop, saying he had nothing to hide."

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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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