A computer’s delete button is “the white man’s muti”, according to Marikana miners who, it has been suggested, used the stuff in the belief that it made them invisible during the violent wildcat strike at Lonmin’s Marikana platinum operation in 2012 that left 44 people dead.
According to Advocate Dali Mpofu, acting on behalf of the arrested miners, this wry observation was made by his clients as former Lonmin security head Graeme Sinclair this week struggled to explain why vital information, including reports of Lonmin security staff firing on and injuring employees, was deleted – or “made invisible” – from submissions to the commission.
The series of deletions and omissions to the commission, which raised question marks about the mining company’s motives, was described by the commission’s chairperson, retired Judge Ian Farlam, as an “apparent awkwardness”.
These include Lonmin security submitting a revised version of its occurrence book, with deletions including:
- The report of a Lonmin security officer, Pieter Botha, firing “10 rounds” at “commuters” on August 10 at 6.35pm.
- Botha shooting 15 rounds of rubber bullets at “commuters” in another incident less than 20 minutes later.
- Lonmin security official Gean Kellerman firing “10-15 rounds of rubber bullets at commuters” at 8.10pm that day.
- Eight rubber rounds “shot to disperse a mob opposite the [National Union of Mineworkers] NUM offices” on the morning of August 11 2012.
- The report of the deaths of Lonmin security guards Frans Mabelane and Hassan Fundi during a striking miners’ march to the NUM offices at the mine on August 12 2012.
- Kellerman reporting on August 13 that a “mobster” was “shot with a rubber bullet and they need [an] ambulance”.
- Kellerman reporting that on the afternoon of August 13 a group of striking miners gathered at Karee Three mine shaft had been dispersed by Lonmin security, who then “went after them” firing 20 rounds, injuring one person with a rubber bullet, who was then arrested.
The deletions, according to lawyers at the commission, were vital to understanding the rising tensions at Marikana in the days leading up to August 16.
Sinclair told the commission that he had asked his personal assistant to delete all Lonmin shooting incidents from the company’s occurrence book as the information would have been included in other documents, including company shooting reports.
But the commission’s evidence leader, Advocate Kameshni Pillay, said that despite being “assured of being given all the shooting reports”, this had not been done. “The net effect of your intervention,” Pillay told Sinclair on Thursday, “is to remove all trace that the shooting incidents took place.”
Pillay further noted that the original occurrence book report – which was discovered by evidence leaders on Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan Scott’s computer last year – was printed out at Lonmin offices on the morning of October 8 2012, while the “censored” version was printed at 2.55pm that day. The censored version was handed over to the commission a week later, on October 15.
Sinclair endured a torrid three days of cross-examination, during which he was quizzed on an anaemic statement that had omitted important information, including his presence at the shooting incident on August 10 when two employees were allegedly injured by Botha.
The now retired security head said he was unaware of the injuries despite evidence that he had been copied in on email correspondence detailing the admission of the injured miners from a doctor at the mine’s Andrew Saffy Memorial Hospital.
A follow-up email addressed directly to him by Lonmin vice-president for mining Frank Russo-Bello asked: “Did you see 2/3 guys admitted on Friday with GSW [gunshot wounds] caused by rubber bullets?”
Sinclair told the commission that while Russo-Bello’s email “would have been definitely received in my mailbox” and that he would have been compelled to respond to his superior’s question, he had spent “very little time” at his computer during that period and could not remember his response, which may have been verbal.
Sinclair, who will return to the commission to complete his evidence, cried amnesia on several instances, including when probed on the content on a discussion between himself and North West provincial commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo on August 15.
Telephone records showed that Mbombo − who was attending a police national management forum meeting with the police’s top brass on the eve of the massacre − called Sinclair at 2pm, but he was unable to remember what they spoke about.
In another apparent breakthrough at the commission, Lonmin security official Dirk Botes said he had heard operational commander at Marikana, Brigadier Adriaan Calitz, give an order to “engage, engage, engage” on August 16. A volley of fire followed “immediately” afterwards, killing 17 miners.
Calitz and other police officers have denied giving the order to shoot. Botes was in the joint operation centre (JOC) at Marikana at the time the instruction was given and had heard it − and the ensuing shots − on the police radio.
Botes said he could differentiate between automatic fire, shotgun fire and the shooting of rubber bullets, and that following the fusillade people in the JOC were “shocked”.