NEWS & ANALYSIS

Why the police resorted to extreme force at Marikana - Riah Phiyega

Commissioner says militant group stormed towards police firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons (Aug 17)

Text of statement by National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega on the shootings at Marikana, August 17 2012:

General Phiyega pronounces on Mine unrest

17 Aug 2012

The South African Police Service is saddened by the event that unfolded yesterday which resulted in the loss of lives. The SAPS did all in its power to avert such a situation.

We have an obligation in terms of our legislative mandate as set out in Section 205 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa to:

  • Prevent, combat and investigate crime.
  • Maintain public order.
  • Protect and secure the inhabitants of the Republic and their property.
  • Uphold and enforce the law

Allow me to take you through the events as they unfolded: A number of employees from Lonmin Mine started striking on Thursday 9th August 2012.

  • Friday 10th August 2012 - On duty employees reported intimidation and assault incidents. Two employees were shot and were treated in hospital.
  • Saturday 11th August 2012 - Faction fights and threat reports of three more employees, shot in the hostels in separate incidents.
  • Sunday 12th August 2012 - Reports of five employees shot and taken to hospital and others assaulted. Two mine security officers were hacked to death by protesters. Their vehicles were also torched.
  • Sunday 12th August 2012 - striking workers infiltrated production areas, assaulting three on duty employees, fatally wounding one and torching six motor vehicles at the plant.
  • Monday 13th August 2012 - Three bodies of mine employees were found dead. SAPS members were attacked while escorting the protesters. Two SAPS members hacked to death, one critically wounded currently in hospital. Three protesters fatally wounded and five wounded in the Police response to the attack.

Our actions have been the following:

We proceeded to deploy additional reinforcements to the area on Monday 13th August 2012, boosting the numbers after the incident that day, with various police specialised units from around the country.

We then opted to allow the situation to stabilise, starting to engage in dialogue with the heavily armed group on Tuesday to seek a non-violent and peaceful solution in restoring order. SAPS monitored the group each day as they gathered at a central point and continued to engage the leaders in dialogue attempting to resolve the situation and disarm.

The various union leaders both addressed the armed group with regards to the police' requests for the laying down of dangerous weapons and firearms including dispersing peacefully.

Yesterday, (16th August 2012), we continued to maintain a high police visibility and presence enhanced with crowd management resources such as water-canon and barbed wire trailers to be deployed in case of aggressive actions and to confine the threat from the armed protestors.

By midday yesterday we had received information from various sources that the protesters would not end the strike peacefully and they would not leave their gathering point or disarm.

The options were weighed and the decision taken that the SAPS needed to deploy the barbed wire to protect their members adjacent to the protesters. The decision included employing a defensive action to disperse the protesters from their stronghold into smaller groups which would be more manageable for the police to disarm.

When the police started deploying the barbed wire fencing, the group of protesters armed with dangerous weapons and firearms hastily flanked the vehicles deploying the wire. They were met by members from the police who tried to repost the advance with water-canon, teargas as well as stun grenades. The attempt was unsuccessful and the police members had to employ force to protect themselves from the charging group.

The dispersion action had commenced at this time and the armed protestors were driven from their stronghold to a high bushy ground in the close vicinity. The police members encircled the area and attempted to force the protestors out by means of water cannons, rubber bullets and stun grenades. The militant group stormed towards the police firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons. Police retreated systematically and were forced to utilise maximum force to defend themselves.

The total death toll of the protesters currently stands at 34 with more than 78 injured. 259 people have been arrested for various charges ranging from public violence, murder and attempted murder, malicious damage to property, armed robbery, illegal gathering and possession dangerous weapons. A dedicated team of investigators is now responsible for the investigation of these case dockets.

A total of six firearms were retrieved after the confrontation scenes as well as numerous dangerous weapons. One of the firearms recovered is confirmed to be belonging to the police official killed by the armed protesters on Monday earlier this week.

The SAPS has secured the immediate area although tensions remain high at this stage.

The crime scene, which covers a vast area, is currently being managed by senior officials from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate and supported by an expert team of detectives and forensic experts.

The police will give their full cooperation with any investigation into this tragic incident.

All of the above was said by the National Commissioner of Police, General Riah Phiyega.

Issued by the South African Police Service, August 17 2012

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