Police accused of planting weapons next to Marikana miners’ bodies in bloodiest such incident since end of apartheid
Police in South Africa have been accused of planting weapons on the bodies of dead miners as part of an official cover-up of the Marikana massacre, in August.
Damning photographic evidence was presented to an independent commission of inquiry examining the deaths of 46 people during nearly six weeks of violent strikes at the Lonmin-owned mine.
The revelation follows a series of media reports alleging that on the worst day of bloodshed, when 34 striking miners were killed, some were subjected to execution-style shootings away from the TV cameras.
Photographs taken by police on the night of 16 August showed more weapons by the bodies than photos taken immediately after massacre, the commission was told. The crime scene expert Captain Apollo Mohlaki, who took the night pictures, admitted the discrepancy.
In one picture, a dead man is seen lying on rocky ground near the mine; a second picture, taken later that same day, is identical except that a yellow-handled machete is now lying under the man’s right hand. Mohlaki said he saw the weapon under the man’s arm in the night photo he took, but when looking at the day photo of the same body, he said of the weapon: “It is not appearing. I don’t see it.”
George Bizos, a veteran human rights lawyer representing the mine workers, said the evidence presented at the commission indicated an attempt to alter the crime scene.
“The evidence clearly showed there is at least a strong prima facie case that there has been an attempt to defeat the ends of justice,” he said. “Changing the evidence is a very serious offence.”
Bizos, who defended Nelson Mandela during the Rivonia trial, half a century ago, called for high-ranking officials to be brought before the commission to explain whether they granted colleagues permission to move traditional weapons from where they had been found.
Ishmael Semenya, a police representative, said the national police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, had launched an investigation two weeks previously, after receiving evidence that one of the crime scenes had been tampered with.
But Bizos said Phiyega’s investigation was not to be trusted because of her public statements shortly after the massacre. Three days later, Phiyega was quoted as saying: “Safety of the public is not negotiable. Don’t be sorry about what happened.”
Video evidence shown to the inquiry on Monday also indicated that some of the slain miners may have been handcuffed. Family members at the hearing wept as they saw two lifeless bodies with their hands tied behind their back.
When asked if he had seen whether any of the dead miners’ hands were bound, Mohlaki said he had not. “If I am looking at the video, there is a person handcuffed possibly, but on the day I did not observe that,” he said.
In one of the videos, police can be heard joking and laughing loudly next to the dead bodies, which lie scattered amid dust and blood. Bizos called for a transcript of what the police were saying.
In August, television footage of police opening fire on the miners caused shock around the world. And in subsequent weeks, the journalist Greg Marinovich produced a series of reports for the Daily Maverick website pointing to evidence that some of the miners had died at a second site, having probably been killed in cold blood. Autopsy reports allegedly show that several of the dead had bullet wounds in the back.
On Monday Dali Mpofu, a lawyer representing about 270 injured and arrested miners, told the inquiry: “Evidence is going to be led to the effect that the people at scene two were hiding away when they were shot.”
Mpofu said one of the bodies recovered from the scene, known as Body C, stood out from the rest because it was “riddled” with 12 bullet wounds; all the other bodies had single bullet wounds.
The massacre of 34 workers was the bloodiest security incident since the end of apartheid, in 1994. The inquiry has heard that at least 900 bullets‚ “400 live rounds and 500 rubber bullets”, were fired that day. It followed 10 fatalities, including those of two police officers who were hacked to death.
In the immediate aftermath, the authorities sought to portray the miners, who were striking illegally, as responsible for the violence. Some 270 of the striking miners were arrested and charged with murder, though the charges were later dropped.
The strike ended in September after workers agreed a 22% pay rise with the mine’s owners, the platinum giant Lonmin.
The inquiry began last month and is expected to continue for four months, investigating the roles played by police, miners, unions and Lonmin in the deaths. It has been plagued by complaints that family members were unable to attend and allegations that police have arrested and tortured witnesses. Mpofu told the commission last week: “One person [said] he was beaten up until he soiled himself. Another lost the hearing in his right ear and another had visible scarring.”
With their reputation already in tatters, the police have been criticised for a lack of full disclosure to the commission, which last week was shown a 41-minute police video that appeared to have missed out everything important.
James Nichol, a lawyer representing the families of the dead miners, said of the photo anomaly: “Even the police service did not know about these new photos until two Thursdays ago. Who concealed them until then? It’s astonishing they have not come to light until now.
“There are only two possible conclusions: a cover-up and a systematic planting of evidence.”
Referring to a video played to the commission, Nichol added: “What was grossly offensive was that you see dead bodies and what you hear is the raucous laughter of police officers.”
Asked if he suspected a police cover-up, David Bruce, a senior researcher in the criminal justice programme at the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, said: “To my mind, there is no question about that. When we’re talking about a cover-up, we’re talking about something very elaborate. There’s a massive pattern of concealment that seems to permeate what the government is doing at the moment.”
David Smith in Johannesburg
The Guardian, Tuesday 6 November 2012 18.06 GMT
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