Marikana: Police officers deployed to monitor protests at the Lonmin Platinum mine in Marikana, Rustenburg, were forced to use maximum force to defend themselves, says National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega.
Addressing the media a day after 34 protestors were killed in clashes with police, Phiyega said a militant group stormed towards police, firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons.
Police then defended themselves.
“This is no time for blaming. This is not time for finger pointing. It is time for us to mourn the sad and dark moment we experience as a country,” Phiyega said.
Police were saddened by Thursday’s events and the loss of lives.
“The SAPS did all in its power to avert such a situation,” she stressed.
Tensions have been high in Marikana in the past weeks, following a strike by mine employees and subsequent clashes between rival unions.
Apart from the 34 protestors killed yesterday, 10 others have also been killed — including two police officers — in nearly a week of fighting between rival worker factions.
Detailing the events that unfolded on Thursday, the police commissioner said police received information from various sources that the protestors would not end their strike peacefully or disarm and leave the gathering point.
The options were weighed and the decision was taken to deploy barbed wire to protect SAPS officers.
“When the police started deploying the barbed wire fencing, the group of protestors armed with dangerous weapons and firearms, hastily flanked the vehicle deploying the wire. They were met by members from the police who tried to repost the advance with water cannons, teargas as well as stun grenades.
“The attempt was unsuccessful and the police members had to employ force to protect themselves from the charging group,” she added.
Armed protestors were driven from their stronghold to a high bushy ground nearby. Police encircled the area and attempted to force protestors out through the use of water cannons, rubber bullets and stun grenades.
“The militant group stormed towards the police, firing shots and wielding dangerous weapons. Police retreated systematically and were forced to utilize maximum force to defend themselves,” Phiyega said.
Thirty-four protestors were killed and 78 injured. In addition, 259 people were arrested on various charges ranging from public violence, murder and attempted murder, malicious damage to property, armed robbery, illegal gathering and possession of dangerous weapons.
A dedicated team of investigators will now investigate these case dockets.
Six firearms and a number of dangerous weapons were recovered after yesterday’s confrontation.
One of the firearms was found to belong to a police officers killed by protestors earlier this week.
Phiyega said police had secured the immediate area but tensions in the area remained high. Police will stay in area.
During the briefing, police management shared with the media graphic photographs showing the bloodied bodies of a mine worker, mine security guards and police officers who were hacked to death by protestors earlier in the week.
Police officers also detailed their efforts to negotiate with the protestors in an effort to convince them to disperse and disarm, as well as meetings between the two unions in an attempt to broker a peaceful resolution.
Video footage showed police trying to reason with a large group of armed protestors before they turned on police and killed the two police officers.
President Jacob Zuma is expected to visit the area on Friday, while Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa was being briefed by police management.