Daily Maverick (Johannesburg)

6 November 2012

South Africa: Marikana Commission - 'Prima Facie Case for Tampering With Evidence'

Photo: SAPA stringer
Police on the scene at Lonmin platinum mine in Marikana in the North West where ongoing violence resulted in the shooting of a number of people on Thursday, 16 August 2012.

analysis

On Monday, the Marikana Commission of Inquiry saw photos taken by the police after the 16 August massacre. The photos are taken by different police officers at different times, and some bodies are surrounded by weapons in one set of pictures, not in another. Some lawyers already believe that the crime scene was tampered with by the police, and that they have a prima facie case of defeating the ends of justice to answer.

The police may wilfully have tampered with the scene, the bodies and the evidence after the 16 August massacre in Marikana. This revelation emerged while crime scene investigator Captain Apollo Mohlaki was being questioned by evidence leader Mbuyisela Madlanga. His photos were taken after dark, and compared to those taken by other investigators during the day. The night photos show three bodies surrounded by weapons, yet those taken during the day (soon after the massacre) show that the men were not carrying weapons at the time of their deaths.

Mohlaki testified last week that when he arrived at the scene, he saw that he and his team would not be able to proceed with a scene inspection owing to the large number of officers, medics and (arrested or injured) miners at the scene. Rather than doing a walkabout, as they normally would have, they took a video recording of the scene. That video, plus the photos taken by another officer before sunset, was used to as a comparison to the captain's own evidence.

In Mohlaki's photos, a butcher knife and an axe lay next to one body. No such weapons show up in the video and the photos taken earlier. Another body has a knife next to it, which did not appear in earlier footage.

The same was true for a body shown lying on top of what appeared to be a sharpened metal bar.

Mohlaki had no explanation for this, and conceded that the weapons could have been planted on the bodies.

George Bizos SC, acting for the Legal Resources Centre, said that there may have been a deliberate attempt to defeat the ends of justice.

"The evidence that we have seen this afternoon shows clearly that there is a strong prima facie case that there was a deliberate attempt to defeat the ends of justice shortly after the event. Changing the evidence is a very serious offence," he said.

He was also unimpressed by the police advocate Ishmael Semenya's submission that national Police Commissioner Mangwashi Phiyega launched an investigation into the odd evidence.

"With all due respect, press statements made by the national Commissioner showed that she is not an impartial observer," Bizos said.

He asked for the Commission to call the police in charge of the scene at the time to testify before it as a matter of urgency.

"This [news of an investigation] came as a great surprise to us. This is why, with the greatest respect, we can't leave it for the matter to be investigated by the Commissioner of Police.

"Who was the most senior officer who took responsibility for the scene at Klein Koppie before and after the shooting?"

"Phiyega can do what she wants. But I urge the evidence leaders to call witnesses about this bid to falsify facts."

The new evidence is another in a line of discrepant evidence and testimony given by the police.

The revelation is made even more stunning by the fact that the photographs and videos were presented to the Commission by the police themselves, and introduced for cross-examination by the evidence leaders. It presents an unfavourable picture of Mahloki's evidence, especially when you remember that he testified about collecting only a handful of rounds and ammunition, when Semenya said that the police had fired thousands in total on that day.

Though Tim Bruinders (for the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) questioned on Wednesday last week why there were so many crime scene investigators called in to catalogue surrendered weapons (as they were on the morning), it could be argued that there were far too few to deal with the amount of evidence, and the size of the scene in the midst of an ongoing operation.

Dali Mpofu (acting for the wounded miners) said that the photos and video of the dead at the small koppie showed that they were hiding, as the bodies were mostly near trees or big rocks. He also asked Mahloki if he knew that nine of the bodies had single gunshot wounds, and that the exception was Thobile Mpumza, who was shot 12 times.

The video also shows that some of the dead or injured were handcuffed.

The police appear to be in complete disarray. They have consistently said to the court that they would present evidence to show that they were acting to protect themselves from dangerous and crazed miners who attacked them with weapons, and yet appear to need to resort to planting the evidence in order to build their case. The striking thing about the bodies upon which these weapons have (allegedly) been planted is that they were all at Scene 2, or small koppie, and not in the area where the television cameras caught the supposed miners' charge. These people were in amongst rocks and trees, in all probability trying to hide. These men were not at Scene 1, running at the cops.

Monday's proceedings also raise questions about who exactly is orchestrating this apparent cover-up, because it seems like the news the attempt to plant weapons onto the bodies wasn't communicated to the investigating officers, who happily snapped away and handed the evidence over to the Commission.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate will also face questions about how the scene could have been contaminated when it announced just hours after the tragedy that it was investigating the murder of 34 people. Were its investigators there when this happened?

The Commission continues on Tuesday.

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