“I saw lots and lots of corpses that day. There were people [mine workers] who were still alive. We were instructed to finish them off."
Constable Itumeleng Ntsileng from the police’s K9 Unit and two of his fellow officers have told City Press how at least one of their colleagues and others from the police’s special task force shot striking mine workers in Marikana on August 16 2012 who had surrendered and were begging for their lives.
Ntsileng (39) and his partner were positioned at Scene 2, where officers pursued and killed the workers minutes after their colleagues gunned down workers at the koppie, which was later referred to as Scene 1 during the Marikana Commission of Inquiry.
He recalled how a special task force officer killed a mine worker who had been hiding behind some rocks.
“The mine worker begged the officer not to kill him. He called out to the officer, saying: ‘Ungangibulali baba, ungangibulali baba [Don’t kill me sir, don’t kill me].’ But he was shot at close range with an R5 rifle while cowering behind the rock, begging for his life. There was no need for that guy to die like that,” sobbed Ntsileng.
It took a while for him to compose himself.
“I understand killing someone in self defence, but when I saw the man hiding behind the rocks being shot at close range, it took its toll on my sanity. I couldn’t fathom that a human being could be killed in such a manner, especially when the life of the police officer was not in danger.
“That incident caused me to stop eating for a long time,” he said before ordering a glass of wine to steady his nerves so he could continue his account of what happened that day.
It’s been six years since the Marikana massacre, during which 34 mine workers died and 112 were injured in a single day. Ntsileng, who is involved in a labour dispute with his bosses at the SA Police Service (SAPS) bargaining council, has decided to speak out because he wants the truth to be known.
READ MORE: Marikana — The blame game — A special report by Niren Tolsi and Paul Botes
He and two of his former colleagues – who City Press has spoken to – have yet to be interviewed by the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), the police’s watchdog.
They all said the officers were driven to kill, blaming the striking mine workers for hacking two of their colleagues to death days before the massacre.
Lesego*, another former K9 Unit officer, said his K9 Unit partner was shooting mine workers with an R5 rifle he had booked out for him. Lesego spoke of how his partner shot a worker wearing a Basotho blanket.
“He shot several of the protesters in their thighs. Then he finished the job by shooting them in the head. At one point, he looked at one of the men who was running away and said in Sesotho: ‘Ke Mosotho! Ke ya mohula enwa! [He is a Mosotho! I’m killing this one],” Lesego said.
“The Mosotho man was old. All he did was dart for cover. My partner shot him and he fell. It made my stomach churn. When you kill someone, it haunts you for the rest of your life. It was horrible, horrible, horrible,” he said during an interview in North West.
“I saw lots and lots of corpses that day. There were people [mine workers] who were still alive. We were instructed to finish them off. I don’t know why, but it was a command, and we were trained to obey commands and not ask questions. I didn’t shoot anyone. I was only the backup for my partner.”
“I still have nightmares”
The officers told City Press that the smell of blood made them vomit at the scene and that officers, male and female, wept uncontrollably. They explained how one of their colleagues lost consciousness while trying to pull the trigger. He came to when his colleagues called his name several times.
Their police dogs – rottweilers, German shepherds, and pit bulls – couldn’t handle the chaos and panicked. They ran wild and tried to attack and apprehend the mine workers.
Ntsileng continued: “I was feeling sick to my stomach after seeing all the blood and brains of the people who were killed. I could only drink Mageu in the morning, anything else made me feel like vomiting. I had to go to the pharmacy to get medication. It took me a month to eat properly and enjoy food again. The horrific scene of that day took a long time to fade. I still have nightmares.
“We never received counselling after what happened. We were left to our own devices and told that we were ‘soldiers’. It became business as usual. When we came back from deployment, life continued as if nothing had happened. Management never cared about our well-being. They were too busy devising a cover-up,” Ntsileng said.
Lesego agreed, saying: “Some of our seniors advised us to go for counselling, but most officers refused, stating that men cannot speak to counsellors. I lost weight because I was stressed after witnessing people being killed. I did not go for counselling. There were lots of things that prevented me from going.”
Another traumatised K9 Unit officer, Mpho*, who still works for the SAPS, agreed with his colleagues, claiming police management treated them like “nothing” after the massacre.
“Sometimes, when we go out to apprehend suspects, the community we live in tells us that we must kill them like we killed the mine workers. I hate being a cop. We get treated badly at work and by the community. I only feel safe when I am in my house,” Mpho said.
After the massacre, Ntsileng said, the police officers involved had to attend a parade, where, he alleges, their superiors told them they were not allowed to speak to the media, or tell their friends and family what happened before or after the shooting.
“We were told that if we talk to the media, or divulge information to a third party, we will be charged and dismissed. The Marikana Commission of Inquiry wanted people to give evidence of the shootings. But we knew that, after giving evidence, our jobs would be on the line,” Ntsileng said.
The cellphones belonging to officers who were seen taking pictures at the scene were allegedly destroyed under the pretext that it was a crime scene.
According to a summary and analysis of the Marikana Commission of Inquiry’s report by the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, there is no evidence that anyone was killed or injured by officers attached to the special
However, the three constables City Press spoke to said they saw officers kill many mine workers, and they believe their weapons were not taken for ballistics testing afterwards.
Ntsileng said: “I saw that the special task force vehicle was equipped with what looked like a light machine gun on top of the roof. They were shooting live ammunition.
“What was disturbing about this whole incident was that the special task force members’ firearms were changed after the shooting. They were supplied with new ones the next day at the scene of the crime, which means that even if ballistics testing were to be done on their firearms, it would show nothing, but I saw them shooting.
“The special task force commander ordered a helicopter to airlift the members from the scene back to Pretoria. They didn’t offer an explanation after the shooting, they just left,” Ntsileng said.
Lesego said there were about six special task force officers at the scene.
“They were shooting to kill; they weren’t playing. The special task force members were brought to Marikana in the morning and they left in the evening in a chopper. During the bombardment, they drove in something that looked like a Hummer.
“The guy in the vehicle who did the shooting was stationed on top of the vehicle. These special task force members did what they were there to do and left. Afterwards, there was no accountability for what they’d done. It was kept a secret.”
Ipid spokesperson Moses Dlamini said all the firearms used by officers involved in the Marikana shooting were confiscated and referred for ballistics testing.
“The special task force members were given new firearms after the firearms used in the shooting were confiscated,” he said.
“Every witness who is willing to give a statement will be interviewed as long as their details can be obtained and they can be traced. Ipid interviewed all members who were at the crime scene and their reports of what happened were obtained. If they now have a new description of the incident, it will necessitate a reinterview to get the new version.”
“The police intentionally hid evidence from the commission”
However, Ntsileng and his K9 Unit colleagues to whom City Press spoke insist Ipid did not interview them. Ntsileng, who worked as a policeman for 11 years, alleged that other low-ranking officers, who he knows personally and who were at the scene of the massacre, were also not interviewed by Ipid. And now it may be too late.
Dlamini said: “All matters relating to the Marikana incident are with the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for a decision. The NPA will evaluate the available evidence with regard to Scene 2 and advise on a way forward.
“Work relating to the reconstruction of Scene 2 by private experts, as recommended by the Farlam commission, was not done due to budget constraints.”
Police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo did not respond to detailed questions, including whether police were allowed to shoot suspects who were trying to surrender.
However, he did say: “There’s been a commission of inquiry where they recommended that a judicial process has to unfold. From an official point of view, we cannot talk about the state of mind of the members, because there is a judicial process that has to unfold and it might impact the process.”
The Marikana Commission of Inquiry, headed by Judge Ian Farlam, found that, just days after the massacre, former national police commissioner Riah Phiyega, former police minister Nathi Mthethwa and Brigadier Adriaan Calitz heaped praise on the police.
“These comments were inappropriate and were made with the intention of encouraging the police to protect each other [close ranks] by denying mistakes, withholding information from the commission and lying,” the commission found.
“The police intentionally hid evidence from the commission. These comments made it more difficult for the commission to do its work of investigating the police. The police’s attempts to hide evidence caused delays and wasted the commission’s time. The police intentionally misled the public about the events on August 16 2012.
“Only the shootings at Scene 1 were reported to the public. The shootings at Scene 2 were covered up.” —City Press/News24
*Not their real names