Marikana response 'not operationally sound'

Pretoria - Attempts to disarm striking miners at Marikana in August 2012 were not "operationally sound", a public order policing expert told the Farlam Commission of Inquiry on Wednesday.

"If it had been operationally sound to do it on that day, then it should have been done," Gary White told the commission's hearings in Pretoria.

White, a former chief superintendent with Northern Ireland's police, was asked by the SA Human Rights Commission to provide a professional analysis of the Marikana shootings.

Could have waited

"My point all along has been that it was not operationally sound to do it [attempting to disarm the thousands of protesters]. Perhaps it could have waited," White said to questioning by Ishmael Semenya, for the police.

Semenya said there had been a clear instruction to police officers at Marikana to disarm the protesting miners on 16 August 2012.

White responded: "That has been my point, I question the how and when."

The inquiry, chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam, is investigating the deaths of 44 people during strike-related violence at Lonmin's platinum mining operations at Marikana, near Rustenburg, North West, two years ago.

Thirty-four people, mostly striking mineworkers, were shot dead in a clash with the police, more than 70 were wounded, and 250 were arrested on 16 August 2012. Police were apparently trying to disarm and disperse them.

In the preceding week, 10 people, including two policemen and two Lonmin security guards, were killed.

'Inappropriate force'

Semenya said if it was established that the use of stun grenades and teargas provoked an attack on police on 13 August, then the officers were left with limited non-lethal methods to manage the protesters.

On that day Warrant Officers Hendrick Tsietsi and Sello Ronnie Lepaaku were hacked to death in a confrontation with protesting miners. Several protesters were killed.

White said in all crowd management situations, police had to expect their actions to provoke a response.

"From evidence, it appears the crowd was being escorted by police officers. An officer, it seems, fired stun grenades in advance of any fracas breaking out.

"That fracas perhaps came as a result of the use of inappropriate force," White said.