Lieutenant-General Kenneth Mashiane testified in the trial of Warrant Officer Hyde Mophosho, 44, of Soshanguve, who pleaded not guilty in the North Gauteng High Court to three charges of murder, three of attempted murder and the unlawful possession of SSG shotgun ammunition.
The state alleges Mophosho was one of a number of policemen who on January 13 last year fired tear gas and shots at a crowd of protesters without provocation.
The protesters were marching to the Madibeng Municipality in Brits to lodge a grievance about water shortages in the area. Two people died at the scene, while a third died in hospital.
Mophosho said he had asked permission to use a colleague’s shotgun that day, was only armed with rubber bullets and never intended to murder anyone.
General Mashiane was the commander of the policemen called in to control the crowd that day. He testified he had tried to negotiate with the march leaders, but they “became aggressive”.
He ordered his men to fire tear gas and then stun grenades, but when the crowd started throwing stones, ordered them to fire rubber bullets.
He said he was “confused” when people started running away and then shocked to see three bodies on the ground. He had questioned his men on their ammunition, but they had assured him they had used rubber bullets.
When Mophosho later told the cluster commander at the Brits police station he suspected he had fired live pellets, Mashiane was so shocked that he put his head on the table.
He testified that SSG [live shotgun] ammunition had been withdrawn from use for crowd control many years before.
The rubber bullets were blue and white, while SSG bullets were black and the live rounds did not have the same weight as rubber bullets, he said.
The trial continues.