Phiyega quizzed me of false info: cop

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Honourable Judge Ian Gordon Farlam during the public hearing of the Marikana Commission of Enquiry to investigate the Marikana tragedy. File picture: Dumisani Sibeko

Pretoria - North West air wing commander Lt-Col Salmon Vermaak was confronted by national police chief Riah Phiyega with a set of false allegations as he prepared to testify before the Farlam Commission of Inquiry.

On Wednesday, Vermaak told the commission he was summoned to Phiyega's Pretoria offices in January 2013 where the police chief put across a set of false allegations from unnamed sources.

“The things that the national commissioner was concerned about... was that there was an allegation that I had bragged at a braaivleis fire about people we shot from a helicopter (during the Marikana shootings in 2012).

“I asked her who had made the allegation and she said she wouldn't let me know. I told her that faceless people were making the allegations against me and lying,” said Vermaak.

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

Vermaak said due to past experiences, he did not go close to a braai after witnessing people being “necklaced”.

“The smell at the braaivleis worries me because of the people that were necklaced,” said Vermaak.

The seasoned policeman with more than 30 years' experience said he was not armed during the Marikana intervention to curb a violent miners' strike.

“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.

“From August to December that 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,” said Vermaak.

He told the inquiry that Phiyega then alleged he had held secret consultations with human rights lawyer George Bizos and the evidence leaders of the Farlam Commission chaired by retired judge Ian Farlam.

“She said she could not tell me who had made the allegations against me,” said Vermaak.

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.

He said he had a first consultation “alone” with the inquiry's evidence leaders only on February 12, 2014. It had been indicated to him by senior officers that he had “to make a plan about his representation at the commission”.

“It was said to me that the police were not going to represent me further in the commission. I was told that I should make my own application to the commission to have my own representation.

“I mentioned to them that it would be unfair at this stage to expect me to find a person (lawyer) who would know the proceedings of the commission from the beginning,” said Vermaak.

He said he opted to have evidence leaders lead his testimony at the inquiry.

“I have told the evidence leaders that I stand by the truth and that the truth will come out in the end. I believe that this is the truth now,” said Vermaak.

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.

Sapa


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