21 November 2012

South Africa: Marikana Commission - What Happened Before 16 August? Lonmin and Police Videos Failed to Capture Crucial Evidence

Photo: Werner Beukes/SAPA
Police at Lonmin's troubled Marikana mine in the North West, Tuesday, 14 August 2012


Like video evidence presented by members of the crime investigative unit, police videos shot before the 16 August massacre fail to capture the stages during which the escalating conflict turned deadly. A video shot on 13 August shows the build-up to a clash that left two police officers and three miners dead, but not the actual fight. Curiouser and curiouser.

The striking workers at Lonmin’s Marikana operation began to attract police attention long before 112 of them were shot by the police on 16 August. The wildcat strike intensified some days before, and there were many fraught exchanges between the police and the miners.

Video evidence of this period shot by the police and presented to the Marikana Commission of Inquiry shows that the miners were relatively unarmed some days before 16 August, but became increasingly agitated – and armed – as the strike built towards its terrible crescendo.

Lonmin security videos from 11 August do not show a confrontation that day between the striking workers and National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) security. The clash left two workers dead, prompting the workers to arm, as they have repeatedly claimed. The company’s cameras were too far away to capture the incident.

The miners referred to this incident two days later when asked by police to disarm. On 13 August, Major-General William Mpembe, the deputy provincial police commissioner for North West, visited Marikana and can be seen in a police video trying to negotiate with a small contingent of the striking miners.

A group of about 80 miners had left the koppie and, on their way back, were intercepted by a group of police, including Mpembe, in armoured vehicles. A furious exchange then takes place, during which Mpembe demands that the miners disarm before being allowed to pass and re-join their colleagues. They refuse, saying their intentions are not violent but that they need the weapons to protect themselves from the NUM.

Finally, Mpembe says, “Ok, I am counting, I am counting…” The cameras stop there, and the bloody battle takes place just minutes later.

This spotty video evidence is not unlike that of forensic expert Colonel Johannes Botha, who was in a helicopter on the 16 August, but whose footage doesn’t show much of the police operation or what happened. His colleagues, Captain Apollo Mohlaki and Warrant Officer Thibelo Thamae were on the ground on the day, but testified that he arrived at the scene only after the bloodbath was over.

Another police video, shot on 15 August, shows an argument between police and the president of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU), Joseph Mathunjwa, who was compelled to talk to the miners from inside an armoured vehicle, despite his strident objections.

Mathunjwa can be heard saying: “These are people and we are a union. We are not afraid of them, we have done nothing wrong.”

Later, he said to the workers: “When I realised that workers are gathered at such and such a place, I said to myself, ‘how can I afford to sleep?’ I am pleading, my brothers, please listen and trust me. After 18 years of freedom, let us see if the problem that you are facing cannot be addressed.”

His efforts to mediate foundered when Lonmin and the police refused to accept a demand by the workers that management address them directly.

The commission continues on Wednesday.

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