Marikana: North West cop sobs during cross-exam

A top cop put his head on his arms and sobbed in the middle of his cross-examination at the Farlam commission of inquiry. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

A top cop put his head on his arms and sobbed in the middle of his cross-examination at the Farlam commission of inquiry. (Madelene Cronje, M&G)

A top cop put his head on his arms and sobbed in the middle of his cross-examination at the Farlam commission of inquiry on Thursday, saying he was "heartbroken".

"I'm not angry, I'm just very heartbroken," Lieutenant Colonel Omphile Joseph Merafe told the commission, before Judge Ian Farlam granted an early adjournment.

Merafe, who is the North West public order policing (Pop) commander, was being cross-examined by advocate George Bizos on behalf of the legal Resources Centre (LRC).

Bizos questioned Merafe about a police meeting held in Potchefstroom, less than a month after the Marikana massacre. Bizos alluded to national police commissioner Riah Phiyega's contention that the police should be proud of what happened at Marikana.

"By the time this speech was made by the commissioner, there were allegations of improper conduct by the police," said Bizos. "On the concessions that you have made before the commission, you couldn't have been happy with the complete exoneration claimed by senior police officers that nothing wrong was done by the police on the 16 [of August 2012].
You couldn't have been happy with it given regard to your evidence?" he asked.

"I wasn't happy, as it is I am not happy, I haven't claimed to be happy at any stage," Merafe replied.

When asked by Bizos if he had expressed his unhappiness regarding the Marikana operations to anyone above his rank, Merafe responded, "What I'm saying I'm unhappy because there was a lot of loss of lives," before breaking down.

'A family'
Bizos had earlier referred to Phiyega's speech at this same meeting, where she referred to the police as "a family".

"Being member of a family doesn't mean that you are obliged to support the views of people that have said different things than you," Bizos asked, to which Merafe agreed.

Before the commission adjourned, Bizos, who was distraught by the Merafe's reaction, said: "I am sympathetic to the witness's position. I thank the witness for evidence thus far and do not want to ask him any further questions."

Throughout most of his questioning, Bizos was using a statement made by Eddie Hendrickx, a police expert who assisted in training the South African police force at the end of apartheid.

In his 67-page statement regarding the incidents at Marikana, Hendrickx alludes to what he views as several failures on the part of the police during the Marikana operations.

These included the inadequacy of the police briefing on August 16 2012, the police's failure to communicate with the strikers before deploying barbed wire, no sign of a written operational plan, the inadequacy of intelligence and the firing of tear gas and stun grenades without a clear instruction from the operation commander.

Hendrickx's statement also points to the unsatisfactory manner in which negotiations were conducted through the window of a nyala with a loud hailer, surrounded by many other armoured vehicles, saying that this would normally be regarded as unsettling to a crowd.

Merafe agreed that the police botched up in all these regards.

Merafe also concurred with Hendrickx's conclusion that after the events on August 13, where two police officers and three mine workers were killed, striking mine workers were intent on confrontation with the South African Police Service in a level that had previously not been experienced in labour or service delivery unrest.

Advocate Dali Mpofu will continue with the cross-examination of Merafe on Friday.

The Marikana commission is looking into events that took place on August 16 2012, when 34 striking mine workers were killed by police and over 70 were injured at Lonmin’s platinum mine in Marikana, near Rustenburg. It will also investigate the week leading up to it when 10 people were killed, including two policemen and two security guards. 

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