Marikana: Mthethwa in Mpofu's cross hairs

Nathi Mthethwa is to be questioned on his email correspondence with Cyril Ramaphosa. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Nathi Mthethwa is to be questioned on his email correspondence with Cyril Ramaphosa. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Former police minister Nathi Mthethwa is likely to face accusations that it was his intervention that triggered the massacre of miners at Marikana in August 2012.

Mthethwa begins his testimony at the Marikana commission of inquiry on Monday July 14. Evidence that has previously been brought before the commission, chaired by retired Judge Ian Farlam, suggests that Mthethwa was under political pressure to intervene at Marikana.

Advocate Dali Mpofu, who represents the injured and arrested miners, will in all probability try to find out what political pressure Mthethwa put on the national commissioner as a result of political discussions he may have been having.

It is this pressure that could have influenced the timing of the Marikana operations, in light of the police decision – and public announcement – that August 16 2012 was D-day. It was on this day that 34 miners were fatally shot and more than 70 injured by police.

It is expected that Mthethwa will face questions about whether there was a causal connection between conversations he had with ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa and police commissioners and the deaths.

‘Concomitant action’
Mthethwa features prominently in emails from Ramaphosa, who was a Lonmin board member at the time of the massacre, to Lonmin chief commercial officer Albert Jamieson.

In an email written by Ramaphosa a mere 24 hours before the August 16 massacre, he said the situation needed to be addressed with “concomitant action”.

“You are absolutely correct in insisting that the minister, and indeed all government officials, need to understand that we are essentially dealing with a criminal act.
I have said as much to the minister of safety and security [Mthethwa],” Ramaphosa wrote.

Another email says: “I have just had a discussion with [then mineral resources minister] Susan Shabangu in Cape Town … She is going in to Cabinet and will brief the president as well, and get the minister of police, Nathi Mthethwa, to act in a more pointed way.”

A statement made by Ramaphosa confirms that he had discussed the matter with Mthethwa and had “stressed that the SAPS [South African Police Service] needed to take appropriate steps to ensure that they protect life and property and to arrest the perpetrators of the terrible acts of violence and murder. The minister indicated to me that this was the SAPS’s objective.”

Mthethwa is further implicated by minutes taken at a police meeting on the afternoon of August 16, only a few hours before the shooting took place.

“The provincial commissioner [Zukiswa Mbombo] indicated that she had already communicated with the national commissioner [Riah Phiyega], informing her of the current situation and that a deadlock was reached with the negotiations, and also that phase three of the operational plan will be executed,” say the minutes. “She also indicated that the national commissioner indicated that she will inform the minister of police on the current situation and actions that will be taken.”

Mthethwa is likely to face questions on what exactly his communications were with Ramaphosa and why he was communicating with him, as well as what instructions he communicated to the national and provincial commissioners.

Mpofu, who brought these emails to the commission’s attention, will no doubt also question Mthethwa on his role and the distinction between operational policing and political responsibility.

In his cross-examinations of both commissioners, Mpofu took a tough line on this alleged interference, and it is expected that Mthethwa will fall under the same whip.

Mpofu criticised Phiyega for two amendments she made to her original statement regarding the minister’s involvement.

“The issue is that both of these corrections … relate to changes that have something to do with discussions between you and the minister,” Mpofu put to her during her cross-examination in June last year.

The two issues that were removed from Phiyega’s statement were her claims that she had relayed information to the minister and, more notably that the minister had given her advice.

Mpofu said these deleted claims show that the minister had transgressed into the operational arena, and they were removed to protect him.

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