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22 Aug 2014 00:00
Members of the Marikana commission inspect the smaller koppie known as Scene Two, where several miners were killed by the police. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)
“He kept saying, ‘let us surrender’, when another shot hit him in the stomach … Another miner then raised his hands in surrender and was shot in his neck. He fell on his face.
We then became afraid of surrendering because we would be shot.”
This was the chilling testimony of a Lonmin rock-drill operator at the Marikana commission on Monday.
On August 16, two years ago, 34 miners were fatally shot by police and more than 70 were injured. Many people mistakenly think that all 34 deaths were caused by the volley of shots fired by police at the koppie, where the striking miners had gathered. The disturbing images of miners dropping to the ground was played on TV news for weeks after the tragedy.
But half of those killed on August 16 were in fact shot at scene two, a smaller koppie made up of big boulders about 300m from the main koppie, now known as “scene one”. The strikers shot there had run from scene one to escape the police shooting.
Mystery still surrounds what happened. Bodies were found scattered among the boulders and bushes, and no media were present to record the events.
Suggestion of surrenderMtshamba told the commission how a fellow miner had suggested that they surrender after bullets started hitting the rocks where they were hiding. He and another were shot by the police, despite raising their arms in surrender.
Mtshamba described his feeling of terror at the time. “There were some times that there was heavy shooting, then we would bow our heads down. Then, when it went quiet, we would raise our heads to find out what was going on,” he said. “For me, it was the first time for me people being shot at live. I usually see it in the movies. The bullets were hitting rocks, not knowing when one bullet would catch me.”
Once the shooting ceased, police allegedly searched, kicked and instructed the surviving miners to crawl towards the police Nyalas while verbally abusing them.
“Police told us we were useless because we killed police and the government, people who were doing nothing wrong. They said if we were in another country they would burn us,” Mtshamba said.
He also told how the police bragged about shooting at the striking miners.
Arrested strikersMtshamba and the other survivors were arrested on charges of killing their 34 colleagues, the possession of illegal firearms and for gathering illegally.
The arrested strikers were kept in police vehicles.
“We were in trucks for quite some time on Lonmin premises, not knowing what was happening outside,” Mtshamba said. “Some of us wanted to relieve ourselves. They refused us, and some had to use the opening [in] the Nyala.”
The treatment of the miners did not improve once they were taken to Bethany police station, he claimed. “We were told to stand with our hands against the wall, searched. If no one was holding the wall, they would be slapped [and] kicked,” said Mtshamba.
“We were given blankets and were sleeping on the floor. The toilets were also not working, they were not flushing, there was water running around and the place was dirty. We were kept there for the whole day without food.”
Injured cellmatesMtshamba said many of those who had been injured during the shootings were locked up with them in the cells. “Other people were picked up whilst injured without receiving any treatment, they were locked up in prison, while they were full of blood, swelling on their bodies,” Mtshamba said.
Dali Mpofu, who represents the injured and arrested miners, and who was leading Mtshamba’s evidence, showed the commission mugshot photographs of some of the injured miners who had been locked up. They had bloodied faces and clothing, swollen cheeks and eyes, and bruises.
Mtshamba’s unsettling testimony came after the lives of the dead miners were remembered at two-year memorial events at the weekend.
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