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Deep flaws in police unit exposed at Marikana inquiry

Gabi Falanga

Senior cop Salmon Vermaak has outlined internal problems that contributed to the Marikana killings during his testimony at at the Farlam commission.

Lieutenant Colonel Salmon Vermaak. (Gallo)

Public order policing came under the spotlight this week at the Marikana commission of inquiry as the cross-examination of Lieutenant Colonel Salmon Vermaak continued.

The North West air wing chief listed inadequate training and poor information management as some of the main failures of the public order police (POP) unit, whose mandate is to provide crowd control.

The cross-examination on Wednesday, led by advocate Anthony Gotz on behalf of the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (Amcu), referred to a letter written by Vermaak to the provincial police commissioner in December 2012, four months after the Marikana massacre at the Lonmin mine. The police killed 34 striking mineworkers and injured more than 70 people on August 16 that year.

In the letter, Vermaak raised his concerns about the inadequate training of the unit's members, their incomplete knowledge of legislation and standing orders, inexperienced commanders in charge of operations, the lack of essential equipment, the inadequate use of available equipment and the insufficient gathering of information and intelligence.

Vermaak also said there had been a decrease in the unit's personnel after restructuring, and that the decentralisation of the department had made it difficult to handle major situations.

During cross-examination, Vermaak produced the unit's procedural manual for information management, which was added as a new exhibit. According to him, the lack of information management was one of the main failures of the public order police at Marikana.

"In the past, it was stipulated what was expected from the information manager to keep the operational commander up to date, so that he can make the necessary decisions on that," Vermaak told the commission.

He was concerned about the lack of information available at Marikana in August 2012. "I did not know of anyone in POP information [management] making an input during that operation."

Dramatic rise in killings
Gotz drew Vermaak's attention to the addition of paramilitary police units, such as the tactical response units (TRTs), which often resorted to "heavy-handed methods" when policing public events. He referred to the dramatic increase in the number of people killed by police during 2011 compared with previous years.

Vermaak said that things could have turned out differently on the day of the massacre. "I believe that if myself or Brigadier [Adriaan] Calitz [had been] in charge of that operation, we would only have used public order policing and not TRT and other units."

He said that the mandatory psychological testing of the public order policing members has fallen away.

The commission, which started in October 2012, was appointed by the president to investigate the tragic events at Marikana.

Phase two of the commission, which began last week, will deal with the underlying causes that led to the incident.

The commission, which is led by retired judge Ian Farlam, was meant to be concluded by the end of this month but, according to the commission's secretary, Phuti Setati, the inquiry is waiting to hear from Farlam whether this will be possible.


Migrant workers 'alienated'

The second public seminar held on Wednesday by the Marikana commission of inquiry explored migrant labour in the mining sector.

A series of seminars are being held to probe the underlying causes of the August 2012 Marikana massacre.

Industrial sociologist Gavin Hartford, the director of the Esop Shop, examined why strikes occur in the mining industry in his presentation Migrant Labour Post-Apartheid: What Transformation, What Solutions?

Hartford pointed to the change in migrant labourers' post-apartheid living conditions, with collective bargaining ensuring that they received some form of allowance to enable them to buy or rent houses.

This development saw vast numbers of labourers leave the mine hostels to set up homes. The result, however, was that labourers then had two households to maintain – one at the mine and one in the area from which they originated. This had a major impact on the socioeconomic landscape.

"Their conditions have changed significantly … and this is the key driver of their demands," the sociologist said.

Added to this, he said, is the trade unions' failure to address these demands effectively: collective bargaining is now done by union members who are paid a lot more than the labourers they represent.

"A-level [lower-earning] employees have little or no representation in the unions at all levels," Hartford said. This has led to the collapse of constituency-based representation.

This, and the failure of line managers to address labour issues, has led to the "massive alienation" of migrant labourers, who then "start to take industrial action unilaterally to address issues of employment".

The presentation of Professor Francis Wilson, from the University of Cape Town's school of economics, addressed the consequences of migrant labour. It was titled End to Migrancy: What Consequences, What Response?

He said that, although mining cities such as Johannesburg had become "locations of capital accumulation", the labour-sending areas, mostly former homelands such as those in the Eastern Cape, became ­poverty-stricken as their ­agricultural productivity dropped.

The short-term solution, according to Wilson, would be for labourers to send more remittances home. This could result in a drop in poverty levels from 67% to 48%.

He said that people in the labour-sending areas could make more use of social security benefits, such as grants, to lift them out of hunger poverty.

A long-term solution would be for migrant labourers and their families to relocate permanently to urban areas; another would be to invest in infrastructure, agriculture and industry in poverty-stricken areas.

The next seminar will be held on April 16. It will focus on the phenomenon of violence during strikes.

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