An entire month was set aside to determine whether suspended police commissioner Riah Phiyega was fit to hold office. In the end, after 12 hours of evidence, much of it only peripherally related to Phiyega, it appeared not to have made the case.
The Claassen Board of Inquiry came about after Judge Ian Farlam lambasted the national police commissioner for misleading the nation during the Marikana commission.
President Jacob Zuma allocated R22-million to determine whether Phiyega had lied and tried to cover up the decision taken by senior police officials in 2012 to shut down the strike at Marikana. After just a few hours spanning the four days of the board’s inquiry, there seemed to be little to no evidence of it.
Evidence from the Marikana commission was to be led and cross-examined, and new witnesses were to be called during the Claassen inquiry. But the evidence leaders, headed by advocate Ismail Jamie, concluded their case in under 12 hours, leading with fewer than a handful of statements that seemingly failed to implicate Phiyega directly.
The evidence leaders’ case included three Phokeng mortuary officials who said they were called to Marikana to provide extra morgue vans.
“Colonel Claassen informed me that they are going to close down the
miners at the koppie in Marikana and he requested four mortuary vehicles to be sent to Marikana for stand-by,” read Josephine Ngake’s statement.
An email that was sent to her states that the request for the morgue vans came from the national head office.
Thulani Tladinyane, a morgue official, said a Colonel Madoda showed them where to park, “so that if there is death then we can transport the deceased to the mortuary”.
None of the statements from the morgue officials show that it was Phiyega who made the decision, knowing that there would be bloodshed and death at the koppie that day.
The evidence leaders handed in Susanna Moolman’s statement. In 2012, she was a legal administration official in Rustenburg. Her statement speaks of how she took minutes in the joint operational co-ordinating committee meeting on August 16 at midday. Her statement, on face value, appears not to connect Phiyega to the decisions taken that day.
The state’s first witness to take the stand was Captain Monwabisi Ntlati. His testimony, which was not cross-examined by Phiyega’s team, was that a briefing took place about two hours before the massacre took place.
“During the briefing, we were informed that the national management instructed that the police must act against the armed strikers as they have to be disarmed and dispersed. The POP [public order policing] members were to disperse the strikers and TRT [tactical response team] will encircle small groups and disarm them [the strikers].”
Ntlati made no mention of Phiyega making any call for the tactical operation to be implemented on the fateful day.
The evidence leaders also brought in former police communication official Lindela Mashigo, who testified that Phiyega had instructed him to make changes to a media statement to be released a day after the massacre.
But he could not say that Phiyega wanted to conceal the fact that there were two “scenes” during which police shot miners.
The evidence leaders wrapped up their case without calling key officials who had worked directly with Phiyega in the days leading up to the massacre and in preparation for the Farlam commission.
The statement by former North West police commissioner General Zukiswa Mbombo, for instance, was not presented as evidence, and she was not a witness, but she was the main person to interact with Phiyega and relayed instructions to the officers on the ground.
In the four days that the inquiry sat, there appeared to have been only one piece of evidence — the email Phiyega wrote to her legal team refusing to co-operate with Farlam — that could implicate her and prove at least one of the five charges against her.
The closing arguments will be heard from June 1 to 3.
The Claassen inquiry was not set up to determine who was culpable for the Marikana massacre. The tragedy is that four years later, no one has yet been held responsible for the deaths of 44 people in a week of bloodshed in Marikana.