/ 14 April 2014

Marikana commission: Farlam to rule on police witness Mr X

Judge Ian Farlam during a sitting of the Marikana commission of inquiry.
Judge Ian Farlam during a sitting of the Marikana commission of inquiry.

Clarity will be given on Tuesday on whether a Marikana police witness, dubbed Mr X, will be allowed to testify in camera, from an undisclosed location.

On Monday, retired judge Ian Farlam, chairperson of the Marikana commission of inquiry, said his decision would be made public on the application brought by the South African Police Service.

"The reasons for my decision will be made available for anyone who wants to see them. I am sure there will also be a hard copy [of the ruling]."

Last month, Sesi Baloyi, for the police, said the protected witness's safety would be in imminent danger if his identity was revealed or published. "There is a real concern that his testimony before this commission may expose him and his family to harm. As things stand, Mr X is under witness protection."

Baloyi said the Farlam-led inquiry had the authority to make such special arrangement for a particular witness.

The man identified as Mr X was apparently part of the group of protesting Marikana miners who underwent a ritual which included two sangomas, the burning of live sheep and swallowing of the ashes on August 11 2012.

In Mr X's sworn statement, seen by Sapa, he details how the belligerent miners attacked and killed Lonmin security guards Hassan Fundi and Frans Mabelani. Hassan's body parts were removed and taken together with Mabelani's ashes for further muti rituals, according to Mr X.

He details how the sangomas cut Fundi's parts into smaller pieces, mixed them with blood and burnt them to ashes. "We were instructed by the inyangas [traditional healers] to stand in a line and the ashes were put in our mouth using a spoon which we licked and swallowed," Mr X wrote in his affidavit.

The SAPS proposed that Mr X testify from a remote location. The application was opposed by Dali Mpofu SC, for the wounded and arrested miners, Dumisa Ntsebeza SC, for the families of slain miners, and Anthony Gotz for the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu).

Assertions queried
Meanwhile, several assertions by North West air wing commander Lieutenant-Colonel Salmon Vermaak regarding the public order police unit (POP) were queried at the commission on Monday.

North West POP commander Lieutenant-Colonel Joseph Merafe said his charges were proficient with the legislation governing the use of firearms, gatherings and general criminal procedure precepts.

"The commanders are vastly experienced people. I know that some of them have led many operations and they did not fail us," said Merafe.

"I do not know which commanders he [Vermaak] was referring to. Our members know the legislation applicable in the operation including the new Dangerous Weapons Act, Firearms Control Act and the Gatherings Act."

Vermaak's critical letter, written at the end of 2012, contests several areas in the SAPS's handling of the strike at Lonmin mine in Marikana, particularly in the POP.

The correspondence titled "Unrest: Marikana and Rustenburg 2012" was directed to North West police chief Zukiswa Mbombo but was forwarded to other senior police officers including Merafe.

On the Marikana intervention, Vermaak made a list of "shortcomings" by the police.

"Senior officers do planning without any experience in serious incidents and this causes that the SAPS afterwards must explain their actions.

"Marikana is a very good example where they were warned before specific actions were taken but they did not give attention to the advice.

"This type of ignorance puts the national and provincial commissioners in a very difficult situation. Officers and members do planning without knowledge of the Gatherings Act," wrote Vermaak.

He also questioned the training of the police officers who were deployed to manage the crowds of protesting miners.

On Monday, Merafe opposed Vermaak's sentiments. "Any policeman in the POP unit has undergone basic public order police training and a course in crowd management," he said.

"In my unit, we have officers who go across South Africa and in other countries including Botswana training on POP. I don't think we would send people without the ability to train people in other countries."

Two police officers – Warrant Officers Sello Leepaku and Tsietsi Monene – were hacked to death on August 13 2012 in a confrontation between the protesting miners and police near a railway line at Marikana. Three miners were also killed in the clash.

The inquiry is investigating the deaths of 44 people during strike-related violence at Lonmin's platinum mining operations at Marikana, near Rustenburg in the North West. The police shot dead 34 people, mostly striking mineworkers, wounded over 70, and arrested 250 on August 16 2012 while trying to disarm and disperse them.

In the preceding week, 10 people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed. – Sapa