Retired judge Ian Farlam. File photo: Oupa Mokoena

Pretoria - North West police Air Wing Commander Salmon Vermaak “did not say the truth” when he previously testified at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry, North West police commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo said on Friday.

Evidence leaders head Geoff Budlender, SC, questioned Mbombo at the public hearings in Pretoria regarding clashes between police officers and protesting Lonmin mineworkers on August 13, 2012. Five people, including two police officers, were killed on the day.

“We know that Lt-Col Vermaak said in his affidavit that certain members of the police threatened to kill (North West deputy police commissioner Lt-Gen William) Mpembe. He (Vermaak) says he immediately phoned you and informed you,” Budlender said.

“Your evidence in chief wasn't very clear to me. Are you saying that that's a lie or you simply don't recall?” chairman of the commission, retired judge Ian Farlam, intervened, requesting Budlender to tone down his question.

“You don't have to say it's a lie, it could be an untruth. It could be an incorrect statement innocently made. I don't think the witness (Mbombo) intends to say if she disagrees with what Vermaak says then he is lying,” said Farlam.

He asked Mbombo to explain her position.

“I do not dispute that he (Vermaak) phoned me but I don't agree with the statements in his statement. He is not telling the truth because that is not what he said to me.

“He never mentioned that (threat on Mpembe's life) to me,” said Mbombo.

Budlender asked Mbombo if she thought Vermaak was lying to the commission under oath.

“He knows what the truth is. According to me, the truth is not what he said.

“What Vermaak spoke to me about is not what he is talking about in his statement,” said Mbombo.

She said Vermaak informed her, during the August 13, 2012 phone discussion, that he was removing Mpembe from the volatile scene because he (Mpembe) was in a state that could cause danger at that area.

Mbombo said she later heard the allegations of the plot to attack Mpembe from other police officers. She said she also doubted the reality of the alleged threats against Mpembe.

“I have doubts because he did not tell me about the threat. Anything that was not mentioned to me would make me doubtful,” she said.

Budlender asked Mbombo to explain whether Mpembe reported the same threats to her.

“He did not tell me, I am the one who asked him. I asked him after I heard it being mentioned at night. I heard it from police officers, they were not necessarily reporting about it,” responded Mbombo.

“They were also saying they had heard it from Vermaak.”

Mpembe has previously testified at the inquiry that he was told by Vermaak that there was a threat on his life and he “had to get into a Nyala as quickly as possible”.

The three-member commission, led by retired judge Farlam, is probing the deaths of 44 people during the wage-related protests in Marikana.

On August 16, 2012, 34 people, mostly striking miners, were shot dead and 78 people were wounded when the police fired on a group gathered at a hill near the mine. They were trying to disperse and disarm them.

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