News: APRIL 2014

24 April 2012

Advocate Michelle Le Roux commenced her cross-examination of the witness on behalf of the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC).
Lieutenant Colonel Merafe was asked about the police’s plan for the 13th and he said it was drawn up by a Warrant Officer. He said a Warrant Officer cannot be classified as a junior officer because according to Standing Order 262, a Warrant Officer is able to take charge of a scene upon arrival.
“The plan could have been revised if violence had continued. As a unit commander for POP in Rustenburg, I was not informed that two Lonmin security guards were killed on the 12th. I wasn’t given information prior to the attack that took place. Had I had the information, I would have placed members in time, to avoid the violence,” he said.

“You had information that two Lonmin guards were killed and the intensity of the problem had increased. Did it not occur to SAPS that they were the next to be attacked?” asked Advocate Le Roux. Lt Col Merafe said he did not realise that the killing of the Lonmin security guard would result in the killing of the police officers. “After the killing of the SAPS members on 13/08/2012, the JOC was moved to Lonmin offices and we had officer Sefike, working night shift and that shows that we had realised that there was escalation,” he replied.

“Updating the plan on the 13th was done by Brigadier Calitz and Major General Mpembe. We sat together with Colonel Scott in drawing up the plan and we chose him (Col Scott) to present it. The reason I asked questions on the plan was because when it was being discussed there was no mention of the number of barbed wires to be used. It was therefore important for me to get more clarity on the plan and not just to rubber stamp it,” continued the witness.
Mr Merafe agreed with Adv. Le Roux that the position of the barbed wire can channel the strikers in a certain direction. He said he did not know that the barbed wire was changed without the knowledge or consent of the overall commander.

Lt Col Merafe testified that if the barbed wire was on the side of Nkaneng the strikers would not have had easy access to go to Nkaneng. He said he is not sure about the intention behind the placement of the barbed wire in the manner in which it was placed.
The witness agreed that on 13/08/2012 when he was at de railway line before stun grenades were fired, there were no indications that the strikers were planning to be violent.

23 April 2014

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Omphile Merafe continued to testify under Advocate Charles Wesley’s cross-examination.
The witness said he has never undergone a negotiations course. “POP members have an experience of talking to demonstrators. This is because when one deals with crowds, you get to understand crowd dynamics. The operational commander is the one that must negotiate. Sometimes my officers who work with me do the negotiations. On 13/08/2012, I wanted to amicably ask the crowd to lay down their arms and if this was not possible, I was going to disperse and disarm them. Major General Mpembe wanted to escort the strikers,” he said. 

Mr Merafe said he wanted to disperse the striking workers because they had dangerous weapons that could be used to injure people and in terms of the law going around with weapons is a transgression, so as a police officer he wanted to enforce the law.

Advocate Gumbi on behalf of Lieutenant Baloyi and the family of the late Warrant Officer Lepaaku commenced his cross-examination.
Adv. Gumbi asked the witness if there was anything to be done to counter the fact that some of the strikers had used muthi and gone through rituals. The witness said there was no way for the police to counter this but the SAPS members were briefed so that they know that the strikers used muthi.
“It was important for the SAPS members to be told that the strikers had used muthi because if they did not know they would just go as if they are approaching a normal crowd,” he said.

The witness agreed that if Lt Baloyi knew that the stun grenade would not have an effect on the strikers, he probably may not have thrown it at them. Lt Col Merafe said it was important for the SAPS members to be told that the strikers had used muthi so that as members for the operation they can be mentally prepared.

Lieutenant Colonel Merafe said Major General Mpembe, as overall commander, was supposed to coordinate the flow of information for SAPS members from Pretoria. The Commission was told that Lieutenant Colonel Seloane, who was Lt Baloyi’s unit commander, was not aware of the information about the rituals.
Mr Merafe testified that he met SAPS members from Gauteng at the scene. He said he briefed members from Mhlanga and POP Rustenburg.
“Normally the overall commander will talk to officers who will then brief their members and this is the norm in all instances. Commanders represent the members on the ground, so it would be unusual for the overall commander to brief all the members on the ground,” he continued.

The Commission heard from the witness that when the decision to escort was made on 13/08/2012, Colonel Diole was there. “I remember disagreeing with Gen Mpembe; Colonel Diole was supporting my statement.”

“Major General Mpembe was supposed to inform strikers that they were being escorted from the railway line to the koppie; but this did not happen. SAPS members were not supposed to be too close to the strikers, there was supposed to be some distance between the two. The SAPS members had not formed a correct basic line. They were just walking behind the strikers,” testified Mr Merafe.

Advocate Gumbi and the witness agreed that when a decision to disperse a crowd is made, it is important to factor safety of SAPS members before the decision can be implemented. And it is important to check the position of the SAPS members.

22 April 2014

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Omphile was cross-examined by Advocate Charles Wesley, on behalf of the Evidence Leaders.
Mr Merafe testified that he would not call the operation on 13/08/2012 in Marikana a success. He said the one on the 16th was not a success at all.
The witness agreed that during the night some people were attacked. He said he does not know of any rule that permits police officers to only apply some of the principles of Standing Order 262 and not the entire 262. Lt Col Merafe told the Commission that he has not received any formal instruction of how to deal with a hybrid situation.

He said during the restructuring that happened in the year 2000, there were general changes in the SAPS that also affected his unit in one way or the other.
The Lieutenant Colonel complained about the shortage of members. He said there was a time when the provincial SAPS was busy with crime prevention in Rustenburg and whenever they needed additional members, they took some of the POP members. “These officials were on a month to month deployment. There was restructuring and a unit which had 200 members was left with 105. Other members were transferred on a permanent basis. When crime would rise at certain stations they took my remaining members to assist in crime prevention. That’s why I complained that POP members were not doing their main job and were instead assisting others,” he explained.

The Commission heard that during the Rustenburg cluster crime prevention strategy, the witness raised the issue of shortage of members and asked how many he could be helped with. He said he only received 15 new Constables; even though he had expected 50.

When asked about the difference between the protesting crowd in Tlhabane in relation to those in Marikana Mr Merafe said the two scenarios are not the same. “Strikers in Tlhabane on 22 May were less militant to the people in Marikana,” he replied.

The witness said he was only asked to attend the meeting on 13/08/2012 and he did not ask who organised it. He said it was tough for him to ask who had arranged the meeting and he just wanted to hear why the meeting was called. He said he only knew the SAPS members he went there with and therefore he did not know other attendees.

Advocate Charles Wesley asked if it is normal for SAPS to be called to a meeting and to be asked why it is taking its decisions. “In my experience of 27 years, I have been asked many questions by people with whom I work. I am talking about churches, companies or any organisations. They ask questions about my work and that is why I don’t find it abnormal when I am asked,” he answered.

“Some of the National Intervention Unit (NIU) members have gone through crowd management training. Tactical Response Team (TRT) members were not trained then. POP members carry shotguns, NIU members use shotguns and R5’s, TRT uses R5. All POP members in Rustenburg were given a bag to carry shields, helmets and other things. The equipment is used on command; an officer has to receive a command to this effect,” continued the Lieutenant Colonel.
Mr Merafe told the Commission that there is a process for POP intervention. “When members get to a scene, they should not show their firearms. This was important so that the officers do not appear as ready for war,” he concluded.

14 April 2014

Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Omphile Merafe was lead on his evidence in chief by Advocate Sesi Baloyi, on behalf of the South African Police Service (SAPS).
The witness said he did not make a threat during the operation of 13/08/2012 to kill Major General William Mpembe. “I did not hear anyone making this threat nor did I come across anyone who wanted to kill General Mpembe. I only started hearing at Roots when General Mpembe was questioning Colonel Vermaak,” he said.

Lt Col Merafe told the Commission that some police officers were unhappy that General Mpembe took control of the operation on 13/08/2012. He said they were dissatisfied because they felt that if the operation was not taken away from him (Merafe) there would not have been as many casualties.
Mr Merafe said he was told by Captain Thupe that he heard Gen Mpembe giving the instruction to use teargas.

When asked about the experience of Public Order Policing members, the witness testified that the Rustenburg POP unit has a lot of experienced members who provide POP training to different areas in and around the country. He said Warrant Officer Maluleka, Warrant Officer Pooe and Lieutenant Kutu are some of the officers who provide such training.

The witness agreed that there was a shortage of video equipment during the Marikana operation. He said the Rustenburg POP has many officers who have undergone a video training course and that in the North West other units such as Potchefstroom and Mafikeng also have trained video operators. “It is true that we do not have video recorders in our unit. We have diaries which we use to record and note down information. We have a still camera in our unit which we use,” he continued.

Colonel Merafe conceded that his POP members did not get regular training and that this was because his unit did not have enough officers.
“Public Order Policing members should not be given birdshot guns. When going to an operation, POP members can come across an armed robbery and a birdshot gun will not be of use there. An R5 would therefore be necessary. However it is true that an R5 is not used in a POP operation. According to me, a birdshot gun should not be used in a POP operation because it is capable of killing people, as it was the case in Mothotlung and Bapong. Public Order Policing operations are not for police officers to kill but to manage the situation,” he testified.

Advocate Baloyi told the witness that four people were shot with birdshot guns and one died from this on 16/08/2012. The witness agreed but said that birdshot guns were not issued to any members on 16/08/2012.

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