Families must wait: Marikana trial postponed to May 2021

Five of the six accused make their way out of court following the postponement of the Marikana trial at the North West High Court on Friday.
Five of the six accused make their way out of court following the postponement of the Marikana trial at the North West High Court on Friday.
Image: Naledi Shange / TimesLIVE

When the ninth anniversary of the Marikana massacre comes, the trial of the police officers implicated in the murders of five people who were killed at the mine on August 13  2012 — three days before the massacre — will be nowhere near conclusion.

This as the court case, which is being heard in the North West High Court, was postponed on Friday.

Both the state and defence agreed to have the matter postponed to May 10 2021. When the case returns to court then, it will only sit for three weeks before being postponed again to July.

If the witness list is anything to go by, the case will most likely drag on until the 10th year anniversary of the massacre in August 2022 as only a handful of the more than 100 witnesses listed have testified so far.

It has taken the state and defence a week to get through their examination of one witness, Lt-Col Moses Mushwana, who had collected evidence, created a sketch plan and photographed the scene where Pumzile Sokhanyile, a Lonmin mineworker, had been shot dead on August 13 2012.

According to records from the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of SA (Seri), Sokhanyile was struck by a single bullet at the back of his head. During the Farlam Commission of Inquiry into the killings, it was revealed he was allegedly fleeing from the police when he was shot. He was believed to have been shot at close range.

Six people are on trial for the incidents that unfolded on that day. This includes former North West deputy police commissioner Maj-General William Mpembe, former police officer Col Salmon Vermaak, Const Nkosana Mguye and W/Os Collin Mogale‚  Katlego Sekgweleya and Khazamola Makhubela.

All the accused, except for Mpembe, have been charged for Sokhanyile’s murder. It was alleged the junior officers had been acting under the instruction of Vermaak when they pursued the fleeing mineworkers, killing Sokhanyile.

Vermaak faces an additional charge of concealing this evidence when he testified before the Farlam Commission.

Wrapping up his cross-examination, Henko Scholtz, who is representing four of the junior officers accused of murdering Sokhanyile, said: “I put it to you that the defence has proved this album of yours and your evidence cannot be entertained with any seriousness.”

Mushwana, who had throughout the week faced criticism over how he had conducted his duties, replied by saying he had done the best he could at that time.

Sokhanyile and fellow mineworkers Semi Jokansi, Themabalakhe Mati and warrant officers Hendrick Tsietsi Monene and Sello Leepaku were the first casualties to be recorded during the weeklong wage-related unrest that had occurred at the Lonmin Platinum mine in Marikana.

Thirty-four other striking mineworkers were killed on August 16 2012 in what became known as SA’s biggest bloodbath post democracy.

The recent start of the trial of six police officers for attempted murder and murder at the North West High Court in Mafikeng has reopened wounds for many in Marikana. It is the first time police officers have stood trial for the gross human rights abuse that took place in August 2012. A total of 47 people died during the course of a miners' strike. Eight years later, victims and families are still searching for justice.

Saying their goodbyes after the court case, the accused elbowed each other in accordance with Covid-19 recommendations.

A group of people, all related to mineworkers who were killed in that week of tragedy, headed back to a bus in which they had arrived, preparing for a three-hour bus ride back to Marikana, where they reside.

The group of grieving families, which included Jokansi and Mati’s relatives, had this week started attending proceedings, hoping to get answers about how and why their relatives were killed.

What is known about the fateful day is that the police and the striking mineworkers clashed after Mpembe had failed to get the mineworkers to lay down their weapons, which included pangas and spears.

It was alleged Mpembe had ordered the police contingent to fire teargas and stun grenades, and during that clash two of his officers were hacked and shot dead by the striking miners.

Mpembe is charged with the murders of these two officers and for failing to disclose to the Farlam Commission that he had issued the order for the police to fire.

All the accused in the case have pleaded not guilty.

TimesLIVE


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