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Pretoria - Similarities are evident between the way police shot citizens at Sharpeville and the shooting of Marikana miners, the Farlam Commission of Inquiry heard on Wednesday.
George Bizos, who represents the Legal Resources Centre at the inquiry, cross-examined North West air wing commander Lt-Col Salmon Vermaak regarding the Marikana shootings.
“Since Sharpeville there has been a stratagem on police violence against people of not appointing anybody to be in control,” Bizos said.
“This will help them to say we were under attack and we shot in self-defence. In this case (Marikana) there may have been the same stratagem.”
Vermaak said during his tenure in the public order policing unit, all commanders would take responsibility of the actions of their charges.
“I cannot agree with you when you say it is a general habit in the police. I cannot about Marikana,” said Vermaak.
South Africa commemorates Human Rights Day annually on March 21
in remembrance of the Sharpeville massacre which took place on March 21, 1960.
The massacre occurred at the Sharpeville police station in the Vaal when black South Africans, led by the PAC, protested against the pass laws.
A crowd of about 5000 to 7000 protesters went to the police station.
Police opened fire on the crowd, killing 69 people.
Chairman of the Marikana inquiry, retired judge Ian Farlam, said from evidence given so far, police officers purported to have acted in self-defence when they shot the protesting miners.
Officers claimed they were under attack and acted in self defence.
“In terms of (police) standing order 262, force which includes things short of live ammunition like teargas and stun grenades, can only be applied on command of the overall commander,” said Farlam.
“Everybody (the police officer) is supposed to know who the senior person is. The problem here is that there wasn't an order given (to shoot the miners) and everybody purported to have acted in private defence.”
He said the standing orders made an exception, allowing officers to use force for their self defence. The inquiry will have to make a determination on whether officers were abusing the provision on the use of force.
Bizos said it was strange that no one had given the Marikana officers instructions to fire on the protesters but many could be heard ordering their colleagues to “cease-fire”.
“There was no one who said 'fire', it was left to the discretion of I don't know how many people. They started firing and killed 18 people at scene one,” Bizos said.
“If you had been in charge, if you foresaw that there may be an attack, would you have appointed a person to give the command?”
“If I were in charge I would have appointed a specific person as the commander of any group deployed there. The reasons for firing, I cannot comment on that,” he said.
“Under normal circumstances in crowd control, instructions are given to the commander and he takes responsibility.”
Vermaak, who has more than 30 years' experience within the police, said he was not armed during the Marikana intervention to curb a violent miners' strike.
He said he did not shoot anyone at Marikana.
“For the past 12 1/8years 3/8, I do not carry a permanent firearm with me. I have specific reasons for that. If we get information about a possible robbery, I book out my firearm which is kept in my office safe,” said Vermaak.
“From August to December I was permanently at Marikana, I did not take a firearm with me. I was there the whole period as the commander of the air wing and I would rotate my members.”
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 SA Police Service lawyers at the commission.
Vermaak will be cross-examined by the police lawyers.
The commission is investigating the circumstances surrounding 44 deaths at Lonmin's platinum mining operations at Marikana, near Rustenburg in North West during strike-related unrest in August 2012.
On August 16, 2012, police shot dead 34 people, 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.