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Marikana trial: Mpembe instructed police to shoot at miners, witness tells court

  • A witness in the murder trial of former North West deputy police commissioner William Mpembe told the court he commanded police officers to shoot at miners.  
  • The officer testified one of the officers who died on the day was “chopped”. 
  • Mpembe faces five counts of murder and attempted murder of those who were killed on 13 August 2012 at the Lonmin K3 shaft. 

Former North West deputy police commissioner William Mpembe instructed the police to shoot at striking Marikana miners on 13 August 2012, the North West High Court heard on Tuesday.

Sergeant Benjamin Mahume testified in the murder trial of Mpembe and five other officers before Judge Tebogo Djadje.

He told the court Mpembe had commanded the police to shoot the miners because they were attacking an officer. 

Mpembe is on trial alongside co-accused retired Colonel Salmon Vermaak and Constable Nkosana Mguye as well as warrant officers Collin Mogale, Joseph Sekgwetla and Khazamola Makhubela.

During examination by prosecutor advocate Kenneth Mashile, Mahume testified about what happened at the Lonmin K3 shaft on 13 August 2012, three days before the infamous Marikana massacre.

The incident claimed the lives of five people – workers Semi Jokansi, Phumzile Sokhanyile and Thembelakhe Mati as well as police officers Hendrick Monene and Sello Lepaaku.

Mahume broke down in court when he described how Mpembe instructed the police shoot at striking miners because they were “killing a police officer”.

“General Mpembe said ‘a police is being killed, shoot!'” Mahume said, raising his voice before shedding tears in the witness stand.

The court had to adjourn for five minutes after the witness broke down.

Mahume is attached to Rustenburg Public Order Policing and responded to the scene after being called to support a Joint Operations Committee (JOC) on the day.

He was a constable then, he said.

READ | Marikana trial: ‘Who instructed that police fire teargas, stun grenades?’

It was suspected striking miners were at the K3 shaft looking for other miners who had reported for duty when horrific scenes later unfolded, News24 reported.

Mahume said when they arrived at the JOC at the mine, security officers told them the miners were gathered at a railway line.

He added he was with another colleague travelling in a Nyala when they arrived at the mine.

They were then taken to the railway line, where they found the miners.

Mahume said when he arrived at the railway line, they stopped behind the striking crowd whom Mpembe was addressing.

“We alighted, and I found General Mpembe busy speaking to them [the miners],” he told the court.

Mahume said he knew Mpembe and had worked with him at other crowd management operations in Brits and Tlokweng.

The witness told the court he could not correctly understand the language Mpembe was speaking.

“Then the crowd sat down. While they sat, they then started taking their weapons,” Mahume told the court.

He said police officers then circled the crowd. Soon after, a “sound of weapons” was heard from the miners before they all stood up.

Mahume added they were instructed to make way for the miners, who then started moving.

Police officers open fire on striking mine workers

Police officers open fire on striking mine workers outside the Nkageng informal settlement on August 16, 2012 in Marikana. (Photo by Felix Dlangamandla/Foto24/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

He said Mpembe then instructed police officers to escort the miners, adding the group moved to an open space, and the police walked behind them in a “C shape”.

Mahume said while they walked, Lepaaku was on his right-hand side and Mpembe on his left.

He testified Mpembe commanded a tear gas canister should be fired.

“The purpose of that was to disarm those people. He [Mpembe] gave a command that others must shoot with rubber bullets and stun grenades. 

“I could properly hear the command given by accused 1 [Mpembe].”

Mahume said “a white officer” fired the first tear gas canister, and the crowd started dispersing.

Last week, Warrant Officer Daniel Pieter Kuhn testified he had fired it. 

Mahume added the crowd was moving towards the informal settlement and posed no threat.

ALSO READ |Marikana trial: Witness testifies that he ‘thinks’ he shot one of the miners

He said a stun grenade was also thrown at the crowd, adding he, however, could not see who had thrown it. 

The officer testified he fired two rubber bullets towards two miners during the commotion, saying one of the miners had a panga and blanket in his hands and the other a knobkerrie.

Mahume said he tried approaching them, but when he saw they were going to injure him, he turned back and ran back to his colleagues.

He added when he again turned to the direction of the miners, they were attacking Lepaaku and took his gun.

Mahume said when they took it, Lepaaku was already lying on the ground “chopped”.

RUSTENBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - AUGUST 16: (SOUTH AFRIC

The iconic photo taken during the strike at Lonmins Karee Platinum Mine demanding a wage increase on 16 August 2012.

Getty Images Leon Sadiki/City Press/Gallo Images/Getty Images

The officer said the gun looked like an R5 rifle.

He testified the miners, who attacked Lepaaku, jumped from the gravel road to a nearby shack where he could see them “celebrating”.

Mahume said he did not see where Mpembe went after he gave the command to shoot. 

“I don’t know where he went to.” 

The State alleged the police officers, under Mpembe’s command, indiscriminately fired shots at a fleeing crowd of workers.

Mpembe faces four counts of murder and five of attempted murder.

He and Vermaak are also charged with defeating the ends of justice and giving false information under oath before the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the Marikana massacre between 2013 and 2014.

The trial will continue until 28 May.


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