Ian Farlam. File picture: Oupa Mokoena

Pretoria - Police officer Lt-Col Salmon Vermaak was accused on Tuesday of having used a ploy to remove North West deputy police chief Maj-Gen William Mpembe from the Marikana scene.

Ishmael Semenya SC, for the SA Police Service (SAPS), made the claim at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry's public hearings in Pretoria. It is investigating 44 deaths in Marikana in 2012.

He asked Vermaak about an episode where the senior officer alleged that junior police officers had threatened to kill Mpembe after two of their colleagues were killed. He moved Mpembe to safety on August 13, 2012.

“We know that you are able to speak to the provincial commissioner (Zukiswa Mbombo). Did you say to her 'can I now take over this operation and do what has to be done?',” asked Semenya.

“I am going to suggest to you that this story which says General Mpembe's life was under threat was a ploy on your part to remove him so that you take control of the scene.”

Vermaak responded: “That is a lie”.

In March, Vermaak told the inquiry Mpembe was overcome by emotion and lost control after two policemen were killed at Marikana North West, on August 13, 2012.

“He arrived at the scene. He was in a state of shock,” Vermaak told the public hearings in Pretoria.

He explained Mpembe's reaction after the two officers were killed following a confrontation with protesting Lonmin miners.

“To me it was clear that at that stage that he had actually lost control over the members. All the members were just standing around and there was no definite person who was in control of the group,” he said.

“He ran to me and said his policemen had been killed. I tried to calm him down. He was totally in a shocked state. He was running between the members saying: 'My policemen have been killed, my policemen have been killed'.”

Vermaak, North West provincial air wing commander, said he later removed Mpembe from the scene because officers were threatening to kill Mpembe to avenge the death of their two colleagues.

On Tuesday, Semenya said Vermaak's allegations were not believable and they were subsequently not investigated.

“The plausibility of this threat to General Mpembe is dubious. Do you accept that from me?” Semenya asked.

Vermaak responded: “What would I achieve by just going to remove the general from the scene? That would be very stupid.”

Vermaak was the first police officer to be cross-examined by the SAPS representatives at the inquiry. Other officers were all led in submitting their evidence by the police lawyers.

He broke ranks with his employer when he testified in March, alleging that the police wanted him to take the blame for the August 2012 deaths of mineworkers.

Vermaak cited numerous flaws in the police's methods to manage a lengthy wage-related protest at Lonmin's Marikana mine.

The commission is investigating the deaths of 44 people at Marikana, near Rustenburg, North West, during strike-related unrest in August 2012.

On August 16, police shot dead 34 people, mostly protesting miners. At least 78 miners were 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 strike-related violence.

The public hearings resume on Wednesday.