North West deputy provincial police commissioner Major General Ganasen Naidoo apparently went into full-blown Rambo mode at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum mine on August 16 two years ago.
On arrival at scene two, the so-called “killing koppie”, Naidoo, according to his testimony at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry, grabbed two stun grenades, “clipped them on to my bulletproof vest” and then, in the words of commission chairperson, retired Judge Ian Farlam, “sallied forth” with policemen on a sweep manoeuvre through the area.
This was after redirecting his men who were en route from forward holding area one to scene one at the cattle kraal, where police had, minutes earlier, opened fire on the striking miners, causing 17 fatalities.
Naidoo was in charge of deploying the fire and emergency medical teams at Marikana that day.
The initial fusillade that led to the miners’ deaths caused those on the “big koppie” − where strikers had gathered daily in protest − to flee. Observing this, Naidoo and his men, which included the K9 dog unit and the national intervention unit (NIU), pursued them, rather than continuing on to scene one. Another 17 miners died in the sweep of scene two.
According to a report compiled by Professor Ken Boffard, clinical head at the department of surgery at Wits University’s Faculty of Health Sciences, the deaths of three of the miners − Mzukisi Sompeta, John Ledingoane and Bongani Mdze − at scene one was “potentially preventable” if medical assistance had arrived on time.
According to a source at the commission, Naidoo and others in the police hierarchy could have criminal charges lodged against them if it is established by the commission that they were responsible for not providing timeous medical assistance to the three miners.
Boffard noted that “paramedics were in attendance a few metres from the scene”, yet treatment was dispensed only “some 60 minutes after they sustained their wounds”. The report stated that the SAPS did not provide a “satisfactory explanation” for the delay.
Pressure on the SAPS is mounting as further evidence emerges at the commission that contradicts its version of having acted in self-defence at scene two after allegedly coming under attack while on the sweep.
In a statement to the commission, miner Nkosikhona Mjuba, who survived scene two, said: “The police officers started shooting the mineworkers with long and short firearms. Some mineworkers put their hands [in the] air to show they weren’t fighting or attacking the police officers, but they were shot.”
Another miner, Shadrack Mtshaba, in his statement, told of how he had gone to the small koppie “with other protestors and we hid ourselves behind big rocks” and heard shots being fired “from different directions”.
“One protestor suggested that we should come out of the hiding place with our hands up,” said Mtshaba. “He said, ‘Guys, let’s surrender’. He then went out of the group with his hands raised. “He was shot on his hands or arms. He kneeled down and as he tried to stand up, still with his hands up. He was shot in the stomach and he fell down. He then tried to stand up but he was shot again and he fell down. He tried to crawl but could not do so,” said Mtshaba.
According to statements submitted by several policemen, including Naidoo – who confirmed to the commission that he had discharged his weapon – they opened fire at miners at scene two in retaliation to either miners “charging” at police or because they had come under gunfire during the sweep.
But forensic evidence pieced together by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute (Seri), which represents the families of the 34 dead miners, appears to contradict this.
Analysing the gunshot wounds sustained by four dead miners, and the position of their bodies, Seri has suggested that the manner of the deaths of Thabiso Thelejane, Anele Mdizeni, Nkosi Xalabile and Henry Pato − who would have come into contact with Naidoo’s police line as it swept the koppie – does not correspond with the police’s version of events.
Mdizeni, who suffered a high-velocity wound to the right hip, which may have caused him to fall “almost certainly from higher up” the koppie, “could not have been facing the person who shot him”, the Seri report concluded after considering the distance between the spent rifle cartridges and his body, as well as the entry and exit wounds from the bullet and the manner in which his prostrate body was positioned.
“His position suggests he was running in a northwesterly direction − away from the NIU,” the report concluded. “The facts are inconsistent with any suggestion that Mr Mdizeni was charging at SAPS members when he was shot”.
The report noted that, according to police photographic evidence, there were no weapons in Mdizeni’s vicinity, but, that the “scene was littered with blue cable ties. The ties had been used and then cut.”
Thelejane, who according to autopsy reports was shot twice in the back of the head, “does not appear to be facing those that shot him,” the Seri report stated.
It also noted that he also appeared to be fleeing – rather than charging at police – and that there were “no weapons visible in his vicinity”. Xalabile was “shot from above” in the neck, and “died with his arms and hands behind his back in a position consistent with them being tied”, the Seri report found.
Pato was shot in the back and early police “photos reveal no weapons in the vicinity”, while forensic photographs taken later that evening “show a panga placed or planted under Mr Pato’s right hand,” the report found.
Naidoo completed his testimony last Tuesday. The commission resumed this week with the testimony of Lieutenant Colonel Salmon Vermaak.