Marikana trial: Focus on police probe of scene where mineworker Pumzile Sokhanyile was murdered
Friday will most likely bring to an end the gruelling cross-examination of Lt-Col Moses Mushwana, who responded to the scene following the first shootings at Lonmin’s platinum mine in Marikana in August 2012.
Mushwana has spent the last four days having his evidence gathering techniques critiqued by lawyers defending six police officers charged for murders and injuries that occurred on August 13 2012, three days ahead of what became known as the Marikana Massacre when 34 mineworkers were shot dead by police.
Those who died on August 13 2012 included Warrant Officer Hendrick Tsietsi Monene and Sello Leepaku, who were allegedly hacked and shot dead by the striking mineworkers. Three mineworkers - Semi Jokansi, Thembalakhe Mati and Pumzile Sokhanyile - were also killed that day.
Coming under the spotlight this week was Mushwana’s sketch plan of the scene where Sokhanyile had been found dead and the pictures he had taken.
According to records by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (Seri), Sokhanyile was shot dead by a single bullet at the back of his head. During the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the killings, it was revealed he was allegedly fleeing from the police when he was shot. He was believed to have been shot at close range.
Pictures Mushwana had taken at the scene and his methods of measuring and knowing where to place cones which symbolised integral points for investigators were scrutinised.
While Mushwana has so far been able to mostly hold his own, there were times when the cross-examination pointed out where he may have slacked off in evidence collection.
This included his failure to bring a metal detector to the scene to help him collect all the bullet cartridges at the scene where Sokhanyile was found shot on that day. This led to him missing or overlooking some shell casings which he only recovered when he returned to the scene on October 9 2012.
He was also criticised for only returning to the scene to reconstruct it for investigators on October 9, weeks after the shooting.
Asked what was the reason for this, he answered: “I wanted to construct a photo album for the investigator, and because on the day of the incident [ August 13 2012] I didn’t have cones, I wanted to place cones there for the reconstruction,” he told the court.
When he returned to the scene in October, he found three more cartridges.
When his testimony became unclear, Kobus Burger for the defence said: “Colonel, do you understand English properly? Would you rather testify in your mother tongue? Because it is the second time you have said you did not understand the question when there is no excuse for you not to understand.”
Mushwana said: “My lady, I will continue to testify in English,” addressing judge Tebogo Djadje.
Defence lawyer Henko Sholtz focused his cross-examination on the pictures Mushwana took at the scene on August 13 2012.
Scholtz asked Mushwana why the panga which was reportedly in Sokhanyile’s hand when he was shot dead, allegedly by police, did not have a single blood stain on it while blood apparently oozed from him after he was shot.
Mushwana said it would have all depended on which part or side of the body the blood came from.
As the cross-examination continued, it became apparent Mushwana had failed to photograph the bloody scene after Sokhanyile’s body was removed from the scene. This meant the knobkerrie which he was also alleged to have been carrying time was not properly pictured.
Scholtz drew the court’s focus to an affidavit handed in by a police officer from Marikana who had apparently attended to the scene before Mushwana arrived.
This officer had alleged that Sokhanyile had suffered stab wounds to the left side of neck, cheek and back of his head. The court heard these were believed to have been bullet holes and not stab wounds.
The officer had spoken of how Sokhanyile was lying on the panga and knobkerrie, but Mushwana’s pictures did not properly show the knobkerrie.
Quizzed about this, Mushwana said he failed to take this picture because his camera battery was running low.
Scholtz criticised him, saying because he reported to the scene, images from the deceased should have been his focus point.
His images also revealed there may have been people who had contaminated the crime scene as in one instance a person dressed in civilian clothing was photographed there.
Mushwana said he could not confirm this was not a police officer.
The affidavit of the police officer who had attended to the scene had also revealed that spent cartridges were found about 15m from Sokhanyile’s body, while Mushwana had reported finding these 74m away. Scholtz said this led to him believing there was possible tampering at the scene.
Six people are on trial for the incidents that unfolded on August 13 2012 at Marikana. This includes former North West deputy police commissioner Maj-General William Mpembe, former police officer Col Salmon Vermaak, Const Nkosana Mguye and W/Os Collin Mogale‚ Katlego Sekgweleya and Khazamola Makhubela.
All the accused, except for Mpembe, have been charged for Sokhanyile’s murder. It was alleged the junior officers had been acting under the instruction of Vermaak when they pursued the fleeing mineworkers, killing Sokhanyile.
Vermaak faces an additional charge of concealing this evidence when he testified before the Farlam commission.
A total of 44 people, including striking mineworkers, police officers and security guards, were killed during that week of unrest.
The recent start of the trial of six police officers for attempted murder and murder at the North West High Court in Mafikeng has reopened wounds for many in Marikana. It is the first time police officers have stood trial for the gross human rights abuse that took place in August 2012. A total of 47 people died during the course of a miners' strike. Eight years later, victims and families are still searching for justice.