by Mandy de Waal, The Daily Maverick
As Jacob Zuma attempts to contain the damage of the Marikana massacre by promising a speedy enquiry, researchers, activists and rights officials at the scene of Lonmin’s killing fields are accusing the police of tampering with evidence. Even worse, a theory is emerging that the police manoeuvre at Marikana that left so many miners dead was a deliberate and deadly act.
Barely two days have passed since President Jacob Zuma announced a commission of inquiry into shooting of striking workers at the Lonmin-owned Marikana mine in the Northwest, and already investigations are mired in controversy and viewed with skepticism.
There are accusations that the massacre at Marikana on 16 August was premeditated, coupled with allegations that police at the killing scene destroyed evidence.
“There is grass that has been burned and you can see blood which has been burned,” said Peter Alexander, a professor from the University of Johannesburg. “Clearly the police have been removing evidence without there being any independent investigator present. But there is some evidence that they cannot remove, and that is the scorched grass. I think it would also be quite difficult to remove the pools of blood, which show that there was more than one killing site at Marikana.”
An academic with a special interest in industrial conflict, Alexander, SA Chair in Social Change and director of the Centre for Sociological Research at the university, was part of a research team that visited the Marikana site on 18 August, two days after the police action that left 34 striking miners dead and a further 78 wounded. He went back to the site again on 20 August for further field studies.
“One of the things I have learned is that it is very important to undertake interviews on the scene to learn what has happened as early as possible,” Alexander said, explaining why he and other researchers were at the scene so soon after the event. “You get accounts of what has happened that are fresh in people’s minds, and you get to understand the geographic context of what has happened. You can see where, for instance, where rubber bullets were fired, and this helps build a geographic context of what has happened… a picture of what has happened.”
Alexander and the research group went through on the Saturday and interviewed striking miners, listened to speeches and heard former ANCYL leader Julius Malema address the crowd. “What was evident from the speeches was that the massacre, in geographic terms, was more extensive than it has been portrayed in the media to date,” Alexander said. “What was apparent to me on both Saturday and Monday, when the ministerial group was there, was that journalists just stand around but don’t really investigate or speak to any of the workers.”
The social research professor said media coverage of the event gave scant, if any, voice to the workers present at the killing field. “The journalists interacted with the politicians, the police and sometimes with AMCU (the Association for Mineworkers and Construction Union) or NUM (the National Union of Mineworkers). But there are hardly any accounts of events from people who were on the mountain when the massacre occurred,” Alexander told Daily Maverick.
“By Monday, the place had been cleaned so we couldn’t find rubber bullets, canisters, live ammunition shells and that sort of thing. However, you could see where the arc of a water canon had been, because of the dye. The most important thing is the information we got from people who were walking past. They directed us to an area behind the ‘mountain’ where the miners gathered to a place we now call ‘killing koppie’. We went to ‘killing koppie’, and there you could see very clear evidence of large numbers of people who had been killed.”
Alexander has the remnants of a pair of bloodied trousers from the ‘killing koppie’. Daily Maverick journalist Khadija Patel got a close up view of this evidence, and said just the seat of the pants and part of the trouser remains. “It looks like those pants were torn off the person they were on. What’s evident is that they are spattered in blood. It was very shocking to see them.” Patel viewed the pants at a public protest where Alexander addressed crowds on Wednesday.
Alexander said the most obvious and reliable evidence for his assertion of there being more than one killing site, were police markings that indicate where the SAPS had removed corpses. “These markers are letters. We found markers using the letters up to ‘J’. On the grass it is more difficult to see where the markings may have been put by police, but those on the rocks you can be seen clearly. You can see that people were killed in that area, and that’s certainly what the workers were telling us.”
Media coverage of the Marikana shootings showed one killing point close to a gap in the razor wire that was rolled out by the SAPS to contain strikers. Television footage of the protest area shows most of the action from this vantage point. Tear gas is fired. One sees miners charging towards the police. Then there’s the volley of police fire. As dust clears one sees a number of corpses and injured bodies, but nowhere near the police figure for the dead which is set at 34.
Alexander said there’s another view that was never shown by the media, a scene he has pieced together using evidence and investigation at the site and from interviews with miners.
In this version, some of the miners run toward the razor wire, but the bulk of the protesters run in the opposite direction to ‘killing koppie’ where mounted police, Nyalas and armed forces allegedly lie in wait. The blood on ‘killing koppie’, the corroborating miner’s stories and what’s left of the pants he found there tell the story that miners died here too.
Photo: The scene of the massacre at Wonderkop that saw over thirty striking miners killed by police in a bloody conclusion. 17 August, 2012. The forensics ran out of cones for marking evidence, and used coffee cups. Photo Greg Marinovich.
“A very large number of the people that were shot were killed on ‘killing koppie’. There are relatively few people who were killed near the police razor wire. Similarly, there were a relatively small number of people who were running toward the police. If you look at the early Al Jazeera coverage, a very large number of people were sitting on the mountain, say 3,000. So, where did the rest of those people go?” Alexander asked.
“We know that they are not running toward the police, because we have got the TV coverage for that. What the striking miners say is that they went in the other direction, and the ‘killing koppie’ was in the opposite direction of where people were killed near the razor wire.”
“There seems to be evidence of people killed in other places too. I heard also that there were bones at the scene earlier on. But I didn’t see them. It appears that these had been cleaned up. However we heard more than one report of police vehicles driving over bodies or a body. The version we heard, but we don’t have any way to corroborate it, was that some of the bodies can’t be identified because they are so badly destroyed.”
An officer for the Human Rights Commission (HRC) at the scene Sunday confirmed this. “I was at the site on Sunday at around three in the afternoon. I spoke to community members and they told me that one person, after being shot and killed, well… his head was run over by a police Nyala,” said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “The person who told me this showed me a picture of the skull on his cell phone. I am still waiting for this picture to be sent to me.
“I went onto the hill and found some clothes and blankets scattered on the hill, and the spears that people were carrying, some of them were scattered around there. I didn’t see any tape or anything that would give an indication that the scene had been cordoned off,” the HRC officer said.
Daily Maverick spoke earlier to Pakama Ngceni, an activist with September National Imbizo who was also at the scene Sunday. “What shocked us is that a lot of people we spoke to say the army was involved, even on the day of the killing of the 34 miners, and that it was an ambush between the police and the South African National Defence force,” said Ngceni who explained that the SAPS are trained to injure while the SANDF are trained to kill.
“When they deploy the military which actually does have the authority to shoot to kill, then you get a situation where you think that these people were set up to be murdered. That whoever in the state sent in the military, said ‘Go and kill all those black people who are demanding a better salary,’” she said.
The SNI activist said she’s skeptical about the proposed investigation of the Marikana massacre. “The miners told us that the police burned evidence right in front of them. The miners we spoke to claim that maybe one guy shot at the crowd with rubber bullets, but most of the police shot with live ammunition. They claim that the police then replaced the live round cartridges on the scene with rubber bullets.”
Dennis Adriao, a SAPS spokesperson, declined to comment on the allegations, saying SAPS was bound by law not to make any further comment because a commission of enquiry was underway. He referred all queries about the Marikana massacre to the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID).
IPID’s spokesperson, Moses Dlamini, said he couldn’t comment about allegations that police had destroyed evidence, but asserted that crime scene investigation was thorough. IPID officials were at the scene promptly, he said, as were forensic investigators.
“The scene was cordoned off until the investigation was completed. IPID was informed immediately after the incident happened. We have a branch in Rustenburg and our people were on the scene about half an hour after they were informed of the event,” he said.
“The relevant forensic experts were called. They cordoned off the scene and did the investigation. I am not aware of any evidence that was destroyed. I was on the scene myself and saw our investigators and the crime scene experts on the scene, so I am not sure about what other information you are talking about,” IPID’s spokesperson said, and added: “I am confident that the investigation was thorough and by the book. We have crime scene experts and they did all that they needed to do to carry out to ensure that they had all the evidence and that a proper investigation was done.”
Dlamini and Adriao both confirmed that the investigations were launched on 16 August, the day of the shooting, and were completed the following day. Researchers and activists were on the scene soon after and describe people picking up evidence and removing it from the scene.
Experts in crime scene investigations questioned the thoroughness of such a rapid investigation.
Hennie van Rooyen, a private forensic instructor and former SAPS brigadier, told Daily Maverick it would have been impossible to undertake thorough forensics on such a large scene in such a short time. “No, no, no. You could never complete such an extensive investigation in a day and a half.”
Armed with some 20 years of experience in the force, van Rooyen said the forensic team investigating a crime scene must first isolate and photograph everything. “Close-up footage should have been taken of evidence on the scene before anyone could walk or touch the scene. A rough sketch should have been made, and then each piece of evidence, whether it be physical evidence or a body, should have been marked and numbered in terms of applying with the principle of continuity of possession,” he said.
Van Rooyen said only after everything had been properly recorded should the scene be cleared. “People who confiscate physically observable evidence—be it a body or evidence—must be recorded. The name of the person removing the evidence from the scene together with the time the exhibit was taken must be noted. That alone should be more than half a day’s work,” he said.
Once evidence is touched, he said, it loses its value. “No one can testify in court where the evidence was found and by whom, at what time, at what day and at what location,” he said. “The moment you move it, you change it or you destroy it, you contaminate the integrity of the evidence, and it has very little if any value as evidence in court.”
Dr David Klatzow, another forensic specialist, called the crime scene “holy ground”.
Any sullying of the scene would affect the credibility of an investigation, he said. “One of the first things I said when I heard about this is that the police should not be investigating this case themselves.
“If fingers are going to be pointed at the police, and there are going to be plenty of fingers pointed, rightly or wrongly, it doesn’t help their case to have investigated it themselves. It has a bad effect on the credibility of the entire investigation. You need independent outsiders to look at it,” Klatzow said.
As Zuma finally met with strikers Wednesday and pushed for a speedy enquiry, the Human Rights Commission (HRC) raised concerns over the deaths of miners and the police. The HRC in South Africa said it was concerned that clothes and other traditional weapons were still scattered on the hill where miners gathered when they visited the site over the weekend and said allegations were made by some of the community members about police tampering with or not protecting evidence.
“It is concerning for us as the Commission that the scene of the crime that shocked the country and the world and claimed 34 lives, has allegedly not been properly attended to,” said Isaac Mangena, spokesperson for the HRC in SA. “We are equally concerned that IPID has not been quick enough to take steps to protect evidence that will become necessary in the investigation, as we would be naive to expect the police to investigate themselves properly.”
The Human Rights Commission called on law enforcers to ensure that the area of the crime scene is treated as such – a crime scene – until every bit of evidence had been exhausted, and those tasked with investigating, including the Inter-Ministerial Team, had physically visited the area where the Marikana crime was committed.
With activists calling for an independent enquiry and scores of people having trampled across the kill site for days on end, the HRC plea has come too late. If the site wasn’t secured properly or forensic procedures not followed to the letter by police, crucial evidence will have been lost forever. DM