Chapter 32 – Time to Shine, or Not
10 August 2012 will go down in the annuals of South African history as the equivalent of the Apartheid regime’s live ammunition combat against protestors in the Sharpeville massacre in 1960.
Marikana would never be the same again! The death toll had ended at 34.
A day later, Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus lost his cool at the local fuel station and punched his former lover, Lindiwe Buthelezi Snr, upon her arrival in the town.
Then when a black man tried to stop him, he pulled out his pistol and in a scuffle a shot went off, with the bullet landing in Lindiwe’s neck.
While he visited Lindiwe during her touch-and-go days of life in hospital immediately after the shooting, Pieter had made a point to cut himself off from the woman ever since. He had heard that she had made a recovery from the injury, however, to safeguard himself from prosecution, he stayed away. It was clear that Lindiwe had decided to leave things as they were, as she had not acted against Pieter.
Three days later, a women’s march supposedly of relatives of the deceased, turned violent and more live ammunition was used. This time seven more people were killed, but Pieter had been sensible enough to instruct the shooters to only take aim at the men who had latched on to an opportunity to protest and enjoy some fun in the sun.
Minister T.K Muronga and Police Commissioner Lawrence Mathibe had not returned from the Union Buildings in Pretoria for the second showdown.
At the end of the day, lives had many lost – too many to mention. However, the Loxton Mine property was still intact and that was what Pieter had been paid to make sure of.
It was May 2013 and the Lieutenant stood outside of a building in Rustenburg where the commission of inquiry into the Marikana massacre was being held.
It was the Lieutenant’s turn to sit in the hot seat and to answer questions, but what surprised him to date was that several policemen seemed to have a vendetta against Police Commissioner Mathibe. Clearly, he was disliked among his peers, so much so that the cops stated under oath that it was the Police Commissioner who gave the command to open fire with live ammunition on the protestors.
Lawrence Mathibe had been present throughout the inquiry and had sat in the second row from the front, shaking his head as his colleagues sold him out.
Of course, it had been Pieter who had given the order for the live ammunition to be fired on humans, but he was being protected, not because the cops liked him, but because they wanted to see Mathibe removed from his post.
Even Minister Muronga seemed to be in on the act. Retired judge Ian Farlam, who headed the commission of inquiry, watched on as the legal team of the deceased pressed the Minister on various sensitive issues relating to the killings.
“Who gave the command for live ammunition to be fired on the protestors?” asked the head prosecutor.
The Ministry seemed to have been suffering from a serious case of memory lapse.
“I can’t say as I was not present when that decision was taken,” responded Muronga.
“Was it Police Commissioner Mathibe who made the call to use live ammunition on the protestors or did it come from a higher authority, perhaps in Pretoria,” pressed the prosecutor, hinting that perhaps the President, a non-executive director of Loxton Mine, may have given the go-ahead to shoot, to protect the share price of the firm.
“As I said, sir, I was not present when the decision to open fire on the protestors was made, and I did not hear of any person giving the command,” retorted an agitated Muronga, who was not enjoying the line of questioning.
Was Muronga on a mission to sink Mathibe and to get his preferred choice in as Police Commissioner or even better, was he acting on the instructions of the President to shatter Mathibe’s already dodgy image?
Ace Mabuza had been present for much of the inquiry too. The fat crook sat next to his yes-man, Vincent Khoza, hoping that their names would not come out in the findings.
Pieter switched back to the present. He needed to answer in short sentences. The less he said, the better.
Farlam adjusted a large pile of papers in front of him as Pieter took his seat. The commission had been going on for a few weeks now and the families of the people killed were getting more frustrated as the days went by. It seemed that some high-profile people were playing for time to avoid paying for their sins.
The Farlam Commission also cost money, lots of it. So much so, that the families of the deceased were struggling to make the trip from Marikana to Rustenburg each day to watch the goings-on.
Then there was the case of the prosecuting team which also had to be paid and were getting tired of the Pretoria to Rustenburg trips so much so that they requested for the commission to shift its base to Pretoria. They awaited the outcome from Justice Minister Jeff Radebe on this matter.
“Lieutenant Erasmus,” began Advocate Dali Mhlaba.
“I believe that you are a member of the South African Police Services, is that correct?”
“Yes, sir, that is correct,” replied Pieter with confidence.
“Yet, you were appointed to lead the security team of the Loxton Mine when the management of the mine found out that the strike was pending, not so?” questioned the prosecutor.
“Yes, sir,” answered Pieter.
“Can you please tell the commission how you could be a member of the South African Police Services and also be a head of the security for the mine,” stated Mhlaba.
Pieter was doing his best to work out the name of the prosecutor. He had seen the man on television before. He was sure that the Advocate in the suit was a prominent politician as well as being a legal man.
“Sir, I was approached to make my experience and knowhow available to safeguard the Loxton Mine,” answered Pieter.
“Were you officially appointed to lead the mine’s security team?” questioned the legal man.
“Well, I was paid a deposit fee for a three-month job,” replied the Lieutenant.
“Who paid the deposit fee to you?” asked Mhlaba.
Pieter gulped and got a side-glance of Vincent Khoza who shook his head slightly.
“Sir, I was paid by Mr Lucas Sithole,” answered Pieter.
Vincent Khoza and Ace Mabuza both breathed a sigh of relief.
“You mean, you were paid by Mr Lucas Sithole, who is
now deceased?” asked the Advocate.
“In-fact, Mr Sithole was believed to have been assassinated in his vehicle on the way to a meeting at Loxton Mine.”
“Your assumption would be correct sir,” replied Pieter.
“Lieutenant Erasmus, it is more than an assumption, it is fact,” snapped the Advocate.
“Mr Sithole was found in his car near Marikana with three bullet holes to his head. Would you by any chance know who he was due to meet with or why he was killed?”
“I do not know, sir,” said Pieter, who was beginning to sweat, despite the air condition in the venue.
“So, I take it that you never actually received a signed contract to act as the head of the mine’s security team?” asked Mhlaba.
“That is correct, sir, everything happened so quickly,” replied Pieter.
“I take it you must have met with Police Commissioner Lawrence Mathibe prior to the actioning of the security plan ahead of the Marikana massacre?” questioned the Advocate.
“Yes, sir, I did,” said Pieter, who was becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the proceedings.
“So, your security plan was presented to the Police Commissioner?” asked Mhlaba.
“Yes, sir,” said Pieter.
“What happened next?” asked Mhlaba.
“The Police Commissioner said that he had to run to a meeting but that I should present my security plan to the 100 police officers on site,” explained the Lieutenant.
Mhlaba giggled sarcastically.
I can’t imagine what meeting could be more important than a sitting of a security plan ahead of a potential massacre,” said the Advocate, glaring at the Police Commissioner.
The Minister glanced at the Police Commissioner, who was unmoved.
“So, Lieutenant Erasmus, did the Police Commissioner hand over his responsibilities to you in terms of operations matters?” asked the Advocate.
“No, sir, the Police Commissioner was still in charge,” replied Pieter.
“So, therefore a command to use live ammunition could only come from the Police Commissioner, is that correct?” asked the prosecutor.
“Yes, sir, however, as in any police or security guard situation, if a law enforcer’s life was threatened, the use of live ammunition would be an absolute last resort,” he said.
Mhlaba was quick to throw his next curveball.
“Lieutenant Erasmus, from your experience in the South African Police Services, on what would you base your decision when to revert to the firing of live ammunition on a bunch of protestors?”
Pieter knew the answer to that. However, he was not that keen on divulging too many of the police’s inner secrets.
Usually what happened was the cops would lay down some barbed wire and position the water cannons and riflemen with rubber bullets in the guns right behind that. Then there was the teargas cannisters which would have shot or thrown by some of the officers. That was the protocol.
However, if the protestors overstepped the mark and cross through the barbed wire, this would put the cops lives at risk, so live ammunition could well then be fired.
“Sir, as I said, live ammunition would only be used as an absolute last resort if the law enforcement officers’ lives are at risk,” said Pieter.
Mhlaba pressed for more clarity.
“You are not answering the question, Lieutenant Erasmus,” said the Advocate.
“At what point would live ammunition be used on protestors? Would this be when a protestor makes physical contact in a state of violence with a policeman?”
Pieter breathed heavily.
“Sir, each situation has to be judged on its own merit,” he explained.
“If the protestors are armed with a weapon then the situation is different to one who is unarmed.”
Mhlaba could see that he was not going to make a breakthrough here.
An hour later, Pieter was released from the hotseat. He was drenched from perspiration. Mentally, his mind felt like mush.
Next was Chris Chuene and then Sergeant Wilson Biamba. Both chose their words carefully and pinned the blame squarely on the shoulders of Police Commissioner Lawrence Mathibe. The head cop could only watch on. If things did not change soon, he would become the latest statistic in South Africa’s growing unemployment problem.
Seated on the far right in the second road from the front, Deputy Police Commissioner Andrew Mollo watched on. If things continued the way they were, he could soon be promoted to replace Mathibe.
Three days before the commission of inquiry ended Pieter was recalled to the witness stand. The hotseat was getting hotter by the day.
“Lieutenant Erasmus, something else has been brought to our attention regarding your behaviour in public,” said Advocate Dali Mhlaba.
Pieter waited for the legal man to continue.
“Do you believe that you as a police officer have taken the oath to safeguard the people of the Republic of South Africa?” asked Mhlaba.
“Yes, sir, I stand by the oath that I took,” answered Pieter.
“Then how is it that you drew your service pistol during an apparent fit of rage, and fire a shot at a black man, who I am told, interceded in a situation where you were carrying out Gender Based Violence against a black woman who had disembarked from a taxi at a fuel station in Marikana?” asked Mhalaba harshly.
Pieter’s facer turned red with rage.
If he could have reached out to punch the Advocate, he would have.
“Sir, the incident happened when my life was threatened,” replied Pieter.
“So, your life was threatened by an unarmed civilian and you opted to turn a public scene into the wild west?” questioned Mhlaba sarcastically.
The commission of inquiry would go on for another three months, with over one hundred witnesses or stakeholders being interviewed.
Five months later, the final report was presented to Justice Minister Radebe, who in turn tabled the document to the President. There was good news for the country’s No 1 and the main leaders involved, including the mine bosses. They were all absolved from any criminal offence relating to the deaths of the protestors.
For them, life would go on as normal. The two losers out of the whole mess were the Police Commissioner Lawrence Mathibe and Lieutenant Pieter Erasmus.
Mathibe had been given a golden handshake by the police. Money was placed in his bank account if he promised to go away and never come back.
Pieter did not get the financial package that Mathibe got, but he was put on fully paid leave until the full disciplinary hearing into his conduct was completed.
In September 2013, the final verdict on Pieter was that he be stripped of his rank and be asked to resign from the cops, as well as to write a letter of apology to the victim and the family of the woman.
The first person to contact Pieter, after the verdict was made public was Vincent Khoza.
“Pieter, its Vince here, I am so sorry, man, but you there will always be work for you with us,” said Ace Mabuza’s sidekick.
Work was the last thing on Pieter’s mind. He had nobody to blame for his dismissal from the cops but himself. He had wanted to leave but on his own terms.
“Look, as soon as the dust settles so to speak, we will recall you to head the security team at the mine,” committed Vincent.
“The boss was happy that you never mentioned our names at the commission of inquiry. Loyalty is key in the circles that we operate. We were happy with the way that you handled things.”
After ending the call, Pieter read on the internet that the Loxton Mine management had offered financial packages to the families of those who had lost loved ones in the Marikana Massacre.
It was small remuneration considering that most of those families had lost their breadwinner forever.
Pieter was still having sleepless nights. Not so much about the fact that he had put a bullet into Lindiwe Snr by accident, but of the words used against him by the families of the deceased.
He remembered the faces of the families of the miners as he left the commission venue day after day.
“Fuck you, Erasmus, you are a racist murderer!”
Clearly, they did not see things the same way that Judge Ian Farman did in his final report.
To many South Africans, white would always be white and black would always be black, irrespective of Nelson Mandela’s Rainbow Nation dream.