No order to shoot given

20 December 2012 - 02:06 By AMUKELANI CHAUKE
NAILING IT DOWN: Advocate George Bizos questions a police expert at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry yesterday
NAILING IT DOWN: Advocate George Bizos questions a police expert at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry yesterday

POLICE have admitted that no "open fire" order was given before 16 Lonmin miners were gunned down in Marikana in August.

The admission was made during lawyer George Bizos's cross-examination of Zephania Mkhwanazi, a public-policing expert, at the Marikana Commission of Inquiry yesterday.

Before the admission, Bizos had said that police involved in crowd control were not allowed by police standing orders to shoot without a command to do so.

He said that, instead of being "trigger happy", police should have ensured that there was good communication between the overall commander of the operation and police units.

"The public order policing officers are trained that individuals cannot start shooting at a crowd without a proper order from a person who commands an operation.

"For there to be a shooting, anyone [in a police formation] needs a command," Bizos said.

Ishmael Semenya, representing the police, when asked if a command to open fire was given on the day, said: "Our instruction is that no order was given and no order was required."

Bizos asked that a video clip acquired from Reuters news agency, that would support his assertions, be played.

The video showed the public order policing unit firing rubber bullets. Simultaneously, the tactical response team opened fire on an organised group of protesters that appeared to be advancing on the police. No command could be heard onthe video clip.

Eight seconds after the shooting, 16 protesters lay dead and a police officer in the front line is heard shouting, "Cease fire," his weapon pointed to the ground.

Though it was not shown on the clip, the commission had previously heard that 18 others were killed elsewhere at Marikana .

Last week, Mkhwanazi testified that the actions of police officers on the day were "appropriate" and "proportionate to the situation".

He testified that the police might have acted in self-defence because their safety was threatened by protesters armed with pangas and knobkerries.

Bizos asked Mkhwanazi: "At the first scene, 16 people died and not a single policeman had a scratch.

"On these facts only, would you consider [police actions] proportionate or not?"

Mkhwanazi, as he has throughout his cross-examination, refused to answer, saying he would have had to have been at the scene, or to have investigated what happened on August 16.

The commission, chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam, is investigating whether a claim by the police that they fired at miners in self-defence is justified.

The commission is expected to investigate the roles of other players - the Lonmin mine, unions and mineworkers - during the second phase of the inquiry after making a preliminary finding.