In the circle of people investigating the circumstances of the Marikana Massacre around the Farlam Commission, the cellphone video is known as the “Ryland Footage”. It was taken by a Tactical Response Team member, Captain Ryland, of the otherwise un-photographed killings at Small Koppie.
It is explosive.
The cellphone appears to have been attached to Ryland’s weapon, or he was holding it pressed against the barrel, but it shows us what was happening from the policeman’s point of view, much like a “shoot-em-up” video game.
Early on in the footage, as the cops with their characteristic black berets lie prone next to rocks, a voice says, “Somebody shooting!” At one point, Ryland’s video shows his own face. Ryland appears to be a coloured TRT member with heavy-set features. A voice warns that a miner is on the move, and Captain Ryland calls out, “Wait, don’t shoot him! Don’t shoot him!” Yet gunfire rings out and then Ryland moves forward, saying: “Is he all right, is he all right?” Once he is satisfied that a person out of frame - not the shot miner - is indeed all right, the video moves on to show a dead miner, his chest beginning to show seeping blood in places.
The same cellphone footage then captures the voice of a nearby police officer saying, “Did you see how I took him down? I shot him 10 times and he still kept coming.” The unidentified officer continues, “That motherf***er, I shot him at least 10 times!”
That “mother***er” was Thobile Mpumza, 26; he was shot 12 times. He had previously worked at Lonmin’s Karee mine, but had been fired in 2011 for taking part in the unprotected strike there that resulted in more than than 9,000 miners being fired. Though many miners were later rehired, Mpumza was not. He was from Mount Ayliff in the Eastern Cape.
The footage continues, as Ryland and another unidentified police officer walk deeper into the heart of the jumble of rocks known Small Koppie. One of the voices excitedly describes how the miner was gunned down, “Kakakakakka”. This audio also happens to support what surviving miners told the Daily Maverick in September, months before this footage was submitted to the commission: that police boasted of killing their comrades, even those who were trying to surrender. There seems to be footage from a second mobile phone, though there is no sound accompanying the footage.
At Small Koppie itself, the extent of the carnage becomes clear. The footage shows several of the bodies lying exactly where later crime scene letters would mark the scene. (These were the crime scene markings that would lead the Daily Maverick to postulate that 14 miners had been killed, murdered, at “scene two”, as the police call it.)
Where these dead miners lie corresponds exactly with the markings at those points. The Ryland footage showed some, but not all of the dead. In fact, though we put at 14 the number of dead at Small Koppie (which was exactly the number of bodies left on the scene for the crime scene expert to process), we now know that more were shot to death there.
Four of the miners wounded at Small Koppie died either in ambulances on their way, or once at hospital. That takes the death toll for Small Koppie to 18. Eighteen people killed by the police. The majority of those killed in the Marikana massacre.
There has, for some time now, been no doubt, even for those most likely to believe the tale put out by the police, that it was indeed mass murder that occurred at Small Koppie – but yellow paint on rock does not quite bring home the horror like an amateur video shot by a policeman on the scene does.
Yet this footage and its crass, seemingly incriminating audio were hardly reported on in the media, including the Daily Maverick. A few did report on it in quite widely varied ways, as if they had been watching different cuts of the footage.
We are discussing the footage here, now, because of a piece that appeared on Channel 4 in the UK. British journalist Inigo Gilmore combed through the extensive footage submitted to the Commission, and found the extraordinary video. Working with local translators, he came to certain conclusions, including one that South African journos are more than a little slack.
Mea culpa - or whatever the plural is - the journalists covering the Marikana Commission did not do that story justice. The footage was shown at the Commission in late November. In the journalists’ defence, it was a few minutes among a day and a half of video evidence.
Now that parts of this are in the public domain, and we can watch it, refer to it, read about it, we all have an opinion. I know that I had one on watching the Channel 4 piece.
A number of news organisations ran stories about it, with barely a mention of the more explosive parts of the videos that the programme shows.
The police have tried to play at sleight of hand in some of the video footage; especially embarrassing was when they were caught by Commission investigators in tampering with the evidence at the Small Koppie scene. Early crime scene investigation footage shows several identifiable slain miners without weapons next to them. This footage was taken while paramedics were on the scene trying to save lives, and police were still arresting and assaulting miners lying on the ground.
Evidence leaders showed photos of the slain miners taken by the first forensic investigator and compared them to a set taken by another later in the day. In the second footage, several weapons appeared to have been planted on the bodies after the first investigator collected the evidence. The crime scene investigator admitted this would indeed appear to be so.
I must admit, on seeing the piece, that I too thought the Ryland Footage had been tampered with to hide police guilt. I was wrong.
Inigo Gilmore tells us: "When we looked at the police video that the police filmed on 16th August 2012 - or least the police video that was made available - we were astonished by what we found. We listened closely to the audio, which was a mix of Tswana, English and Afrikaans. You can hear an officer clearly shout out, ‘Don’t shoot, don't shoot’, but then shots ring out and moments later the body of a miner, shot many times, can be seen. You can also hear a police officer standing by the body say: ‘I shot that motherf***er.’
"So this video raises a lot of questions. What's more, it does appear that the video was heavily edited before being made available. Several times just when something appears to be happening, the video cuts out. At one moment, a police officer can be seen pointing down at someone on the ground. Is he pointing a gun? It is not clear. The video sequence cuts out.'
"Perhaps police video from that day can hold a key to understanding what really happened. If it is possible to clarify details of what happened in and around the 'Killing Koppie', where a majority of the miners died, then surely it's possible to piece together how the miners died. So the question is: what about the rest of the footage? Is it out there somewhere?”
It seems that the police were quite keen to have this footage admitted as evidence, as well as that from another policeman’s cell phone, as they believed it supported their case that they acted in self-defence.
Here is how the story goes. At the outer circle of police surrounding Small Koppie, a man in a light-coloured shirt is making a dash for freedom, carrying two spears. It is 16:13, and he might have been escaping from the cauldron of death that was the innermost circle of the weathered jumble of granite that was the remains of the koppie. Equally, he might not have; we will never know. The man is Thobile Mpumza. As he runs, a man’s voice commands him to lie down and lower his weapons. Mpumza does so. Sgt S then moves in to handcuff him, and as the policemen gets near, Mpumza suddenly lifts the spears and lunges at Sgt S. The policeman falls backwards and fires repeatedly with his service pistol. He shoots nine bullets, and Mpumza lies dead on his back.
This is where the cellphone footage records Captain Ryland asking if Sgt S is all right, before moving to look at Mpumza, who is clearly not all right.
In the initial version of events by Sgt S, he is convinced that he killed Mpumza. Yet he was wrong; all of his shots missed Mpumza completely.
Mpumza’s torso was riddled with twelve high-velocity rounds, fired from an R5 rifle. The range at which he was shot is not clear from the forensic evidence, but the grouping suggests at reasonably close range.
It was one of the other specialist members who shot him; the ballistic evidence presented at the Commission will clarify this.
So this is the only one of the 34, insiders at the commission reckon, where the police have any claim to being able to say their officers acted in self or private defence against a miner who threatened them. Mpumza had many more wounds than any of the other victims that day.
This is the exception that proves the rule. It shows us some of the many shades of grey between the absolutes of partisan opinion.
Yet what is troubling is that this narrative has been garbled by our narrators, including Channel 4. The police had managed to show themselves in the worst possible light at the Commission when they were caught fabricating evidence on another occasion. They have also been caught out withholding evidence they deemed self-incriminating.
One of the huge gaps in the video and photographic record is that of the actual killings at Small Koppie. The helicopter flying overhead, its crew tasked with recording the day, somehow is facing the other way for almost an hour while the shootings take place.
Police advocate Ishmael Semenya complained that the police were already negatively judged in the court of public opinion, and asked that the SAPS be given the opportunity to lay out their side of the story. They did, and yet it seems they have been frugal with the facts of “their” side of the story.
Lieutenant-Colonel Duncan Scott and Lieutenant-Colonel Victor Visser, as well as other police witnesses, have said the police acted in self-defence on the day of the massacre, in the face of extraordinary circumstances, namely aggression from a large crowd that would not acquiesce to police demands that they disarm and disperse. Therefore, the police were left with no choice but to use deadly force. The police argument is not at all convincing thus far, but more than that, it raises disturbing questions about police motives in the Commission. It appears they do not want the truth, whatever that may be, to come out, and they are trying to clear themselves of any blame.
What the police and their political masters do not realise is that the an entire nation’s faith is vested in an honest police force that strives to uphold the Constitution, or does it damnedest to rectify the situation when it stumbles.
The police have no right, ethically, morally or legally, to withhold any evidence relating to the massacre, even if it implicates their own members. They have a duty not to obstruct justice, or the Commission, by submitting partial, edited footage. And we, the journalists, have to tell the full story, as accurately as we are able, but in context. The dead of Marikana deserve no less.
This column appeared in The Daily Maverick.