Former North West deputy police commissioner William Mpembe will not take responsibility for the tragic events that occurred at the Lonmin K3 shaft in Marikana on 13 August 2012 because police officers were also killed, a witness told the North West High Court in Mahikeng on Thursday.
Sergeant Benjamin Mahume said his evidence about Mpembe’s role on the day was truthful and was what he had witnessed.
Mahume was attached to Rustenburg Public Order Policing that year when he was instructed to attend the scene, he testified before Judge Tebogo Djaje. The police officer disputed a suggestion from Mpembe’s defence lawyer, advocate Jan Ellis, that his evidence before the court was not “truthful”.
His testimony focused on Mpembe and the orders he gave before chaos broke out.
The clash between the police and striking miners left five people dead – workers Semi Jokansi, Phumzile Sokhanyile and Thembelakhe Mati as well as police officers Hendrick Monene and Sello Lepaaku.
The incident happened three days before the infamous Marikana massacre on 16 August 2012.
Ellis spent three days questioning and informing Mahume that his client denied every aspect of the testimony he had given in court.
But the officer, who at times was emotional, did not budge – sticking to his story.
Mahume testified Mpembe was the overall commander on the day when chaos erupted.
He told the court Mpembe instructed police officers to fire tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets at the miners.
But Ellis put it to him that Mpembe denied ever giving the orders.Mahume replied:
Yes, he will now deny this because he does not want to take responsibility that some of our members died.
Ellis also found inconsistencies in his testimony and a statement he gave in 2017.
The lawyer said: “He [Mpembe] will also deny that during the chaos that erupted and in that time when you fired a total of 10 rubber bullets, he will deny that he used the word, ‘shoot!'”
Mahume testified that when two miners allegedly attacked a police officer during the chaotic scenes, Mpembe gave an instruction that he should shoot.
He told the court Mpembe’s exact words were: “A police officer is being killed, shoot!”
The court heard the police officer under attack was Lepaaku.
‘ I respect him’
Responding to Ellis’ submission that Mpembe would deny he gave the order, Mahume said: “That is not possible. He can deny it now because he has a duty to deny it now.”
He added when he arrived at the mine, he found the workers gathered at a railway line, saying Mpembe was addressing the crowd who were armed with pangas and knobkerries.
Soon after that, the miners sat down but then stood up and started moving – and Mpembe instructed police officers to escort them.
Mahumbe said the police proceeded to escort the miners in a “c-shape” formation until Mpembe ordered that a tear gas canister be fired at them.
Warrant Officer Daniel Pieter Kuhn testified last week that he fired the first tear gas canister into the crowd after he heard the instruction.Although Kuhn told the court that he could not hear from who the instruction came from, Mahume told the court he specifically heard it from Mpembe:
I was near him. I was the most junior. I heard him. I would also not tell a lie about him because I respect him – he was my commander.
He testified that he was next to Lepaaku on the far right as they escorted the group.
But Ellis brought up another statement from a witness who is yet to take the stand.
The said witness, only mentioned as “Baloyi” wrote in the statement that he was in a Nyala and Lepaaku was a crew member in it.
Ellis said the statement gave an understanding that Mahume had not been telling the truth when he testified that he had walked with Lepaaku.
“Mr Mahume, my instructions are that your evidence of Mr Lepaaku walking there with you on the extreme right of the ‘c-formation’ is not true,” he added.
But Mahume disagreed, maintaining that his evidence was based on what he recalled.
Ellis told him that if his evidence insinuated that Mpembe was responsible for the deaths and injuries of people at the scene, this was not so.
“I disagree with that statement that is put to me,” Mahume replied as Ellis concluded his cross-examination.
Defence lawyers for the five other accused police officers will start cross-examining Mahume on Friday.
The trial will continue until 28 May.