Police crime intelligence gathered information that protesting Marikana mineworkers had performed muti rituals and believed they were invincible before the August 16 shootings last year.
Brigadier Adriaan Calitz told the Farlam Commission of Inquiry in Centurion on Tuesday that even though the strikers believed they were invincible police had to intervene to curb the violent strike.
“We had received intelligence that there was this story around the muti and these people believed that the police would not be able to do anything to them. They believed that their [police] weapons would not be able to do anything.
“The police are being subjected to such things on a daily basis, for example in the cash-in-transit robberies. People use muti and believe that nothing will happen to them. At the end of the day, we had to act,” he said.
Calitz was one of the police commanders assigned to the operation during the labour unrest at Lonmin’s platinum mining operations at Marikana, near Rustenburg in North West last year.
He said the police had been threatened and told to leave the Marikana koppie (hill), where the strikers had gathered, six times in the hours before the shooting.
Ishmael Semenya, for the police, asked Calitz to explain whether police were sure that methods like verbal orders, use of stun grenades, water cannon, rubber bullets, and the display of force would not have caused the protesters to disperse from the koppie.
Calitz said: “From my own experience based on around 20 years in charge of the POP (public order policing), it is not the first time I was giving instructions for dispersal. These methods [the water cannon, stun grenades, and verbal orders] always work correctly.
“People [protesters] take the easiest way out to avoid being shot or being arrested.”
He rubbished claims that the mineworkers “misunderstood” the purpose of barbed wired, which led to the chaotic confrontation.
“It [the rolling out of barbed wire] was not misunderstood. The purpose of the barbed wire had been explained to them. It [the confrontation] was a deliberate action by protesters,” said Calitz.
On Monday, Calitz told the commission he was unaware that mineworkers “lying around” after the encounter with police were dead.
In a sworn statement submitted to the commission, Calitz testified that due to the noise around the koppie, he had not heard the police tactical response team (TRT) firing live ammunition at the strikers.
“I contacted Lt-Col [Solomon] Vermaak on radio and inquired from him why the TRT was not following our dispersal action. He said he would go and check and later reported that the TRT were at the kraal and there were bodies lying around,” said Calitz.
“I thought, given my experience and the absence of such a report to me, that the bodies referred to people who were injured by the dispersion action or lying down to be arrested.”
Calitz detailed how he instructed officers to pursue protesters who were escaping in the northern and western directions. He urged the officers to arrest the fleeing protesters.
“I gave clear instructions over the radio to the dispersion group [police officers] ‘do not shoot unless the target engages you’. I repeated the instruction to ensure that members understood me clearly,” said Calitz.
“The shooting I was referring to [meant the use of] rubber rounds and not sharp ammunition. They were to use rubber only as a last resort if the armed strikers approached them with dangerous weapons.”
The three-member commission led by retired judge Ian Farlam is holding public hearings. The other commissioners are senior advocates Bantubonke Tokota and Pingla Hemraj.
Thirty-four people, mostly striking miners, were shot dead on August 16, 2012, and 78 were wounded when police fired on them while trying to disperse and disarm a group which had gathered on a hill near Lonmin’s platinum mining operations.
In the preceding week, 10 people, including two policeman and two security guards, were killed near the mine.
President Jacob Zuma appointed the commission in August last year.