Cross-examination of South African Police Service (SAPS) witness Brig Zephania Mkhwanazi will continue on Monday as the Marikana commission of inquiry resumes its work after a month-long break.
President Jacob Zuma set up the commission last year to look into the deadly mine strike, which saw at least 44 people die, more than 70 people injured, about 250 people arrested, as well as damage and destruction to Lonmin’s Marikana mine property.
Initially meant to run for four months, the commission has recently been given until June to conclude its work. Brig Mkhwanazi’s testimony has become more significant as he was also closely questioned as an expert on whether the SAPS acted reasonably on August 16, the day of the confrontation with the SAPS in which 34 people died.
During cross-examination by evidence leader Geoff Budlender SC, Brig Mkhwanazi agreed there were a number of alternative options available to the SAPS to disarm the strikers — options that were lower risk than confronting more than 3,500 strikers the way they did. Part of planning a dispersal operation was to ensure there were contingency plans in place if things went wrong, he said. But he agreed with Mr Budlender that the only contingency plan was the deployment of the tactical response team, national intervention unit and special task force, which are armed with deadly weapons.
Counsel for the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu) and the families of those who died are still to cross-examine Brig Mkhwanazi and will likely seek to obtain more concessions to add to the argument that the police’s plan to disperse and disarm the strikers was inadequate. Given how proceedings have gone so far, Brig Mkhwanazi may be on the stand much of this week.
But the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) president Senzeni Zokwana is also among those expected to take the stand soon. Mr Zokwana recently told Business Day that he could have taken the stand last month after Amcu president Joseph Mathunjwa, but the commission was worried his testimony would be interrupted by the break.
The "toxic relationship" between Amcu and the NUM has been cited as one of the reasons for the Marikana tragedy, especially by Lonmin, whose counsel, Schalk Burger SC, will likely return to this theme.
Mr Mathunjwa, however, insisted that while there was "competition" between the two unions, Lonmin was to blame for the standoff. In December, the NUM’s counsel, Karel Tip SC, alleged the NUM members had been intimidated by Amcu members, who he said appeared to be from Impala Platinum’s mine, not Marikana mine.
Also much anticipated is evidence from the injured and arrested miners, represented by Dali Mpofu and Lesego Mmusi.
Just before the commission closed in December, Mr Mmusi put his client’s version to Brig Mkhwanazi, saying they would tell the commission that police officers, after their first volley of fire, looked for wounded workers on the ground and shot them again if they were alive.
He said evidence would further be led showing that the protesters who had run from the scene of the first shooting and hid in the nearby bushes were followed by police officers, who shot them in their hiding places.