Cop vs cops at Marikana inquiry

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Judge Ian Farlam File photo: Oupa Mokoena

Pretoria - Police commanders at the Marikana labour unrest in August 2012 were not experienced in crowd management and unrest scenarios, North West police air wing commander Lt-Col Salmon Vermaak said on Wednesday.

“Of the people that I know, it is (Lt-Col Joseph) Merafe... he was the most experienced person in the public order policing unit and Brigadier Adriaan Calitz,” Vermaak told the Farlam Commission of Inquiry in Pretoria.

“Other people from Pretoria that I met, I believe they had never been exposed to the experiences in the mines,” said Vermaak.

He was led in giving evidence at the commission by evidence leader Kameshni Pillay.

Vermaak was asked to explain whether his questioning of the police officers' experience also extended to North West deputy provincial commissioner William Mpembe, who was overall operational commander during the unrest at Lonmin's platinum mining operations at Marikana, near Rustenburg in North West.

He responded: “During my time as commander of the public order policing unit he was never involved at any time in any incident where we were dealing with unrest in mines.

“Whether he was involved in mines unrest after I left, I would not be able to respond to that.”

Vermaak said the commanders of the elite tactical response unit deployed at Marikana in the days leading up to the August 16, 2012, mass shooting were also inexperienced in public order policing which specialised in crowd management.

“The commanders are people who have never been involved in such violence,” he said.

Vermaak said it was peculiar that the special task force's Lt-Col Duncan Scott was assigned to draw up the intervention plan which inadvertently resulted in the August 16 shootings.

“It was strange to me that somebody from the task force was brought in to draw a plan for an incident that has public unrest,” he said.

The police strategy implemented prior to the August 16 shootings was referred to by police officers as the “Scott plan”.

On Tuesday Vermaak told the inquiry the SA Police Service wanted him to take the blame for the deaths of the Marikana miners.

“In a consultation with the police legal team, it was mentioned to me that I am going to carry the responsibility for the people that were killed at koppie three,” he said.

“I realised that I should note everything down in my diary regarding meetings and discussions we were having (regarding Marikana incidents).”

Vermaak said he made it clear to the police legal team, national commissioner Riah Phiyega, and North West commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo that he would stick only to the facts.

Speaking in Afrikaans, Vermaak said he was disappointed by his superiors' stance.

“I was disappointed that all of a sudden a finger was being pointed at me, with all my years of public order policing. I was being directly held responsible for the death of these people,” said Vermaak.

“Where do they base the allegations against me? It is not acceptable. Did they give me any other briefing about any other plan that was going to be implemented?”

He cited numerous flaws within the SAPS intervention methods to manage a lengthy wage-related protest at the Lonmin mine.

On August 16, 2012, police shot dead 34, mostly protesting miners, at the mine.

At least 78 miners were also wounded when police fired on a group gathered at a hill near the mine while trying to disarm and disperse them.

In the preceding week, 10 people, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed in the strike-related violence.

The commission, chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam, is probing the 44 deaths.

Unlike all other police officers who have testified at the inquiry, Vermaak is being led in giving his testimony by evidence leaders.

Other police officers have been led by SAPS lawyers at the commission. Vermaak will be cross-examined by the police lawyers.

Sapa


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