/ 29 April 2014

Senior cop questioned about involvement in Marikana strike

Lieutenant Colonel Salmon Vermaak.
Lieutenant Colonel Salmon Vermaak.

Maverick senior police officer Lieutenant Colonel Salmon Vermaak was quizzed by police lawyers on Tuesday over his involvement in a 2012 strike by Marikana mineworkers.

Ishmael Semenya SC, for the South African Police Service (SAPS), asked Vermaak about an episode where the senior officer instructed a junior police officer to fire at a protester.

"The only time a police officer fired live ammunition at a striker was at the command of you. Was it a public order policing issue when you told that member to fire," Semenya asked.

Vermaak replied: "Just to correct you, there is no proof that the person who was killed [on August 13 2012] was shot by the member I gave the instruction to."

Semenya: "I didn't ask you that question, did I? You are trying to explain that it was not a public order policing incident, what was it now?"

Vermaak said in public order management instructions, police officers may shoot with live ammunition under certain exceptional circumstances.

He said the protester was firing at police officers.

'The guts to testify'
"They were shooting at police and people have to protect their own lives. I had the guts to sit in this [Marikana] commission and say, 'I instructed a police member to shoot somebody'," said Vermaak.

"As far as I remember, not one of the [police] witnesses who have testified had the guts to testify that they gave instructions to shoot."

Semenya asked Vermaak about his criticism of the use of R5 rifles in public order management.

He also asked Vermaak why he did not write a report to the police watchdog body – the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid).

Vermaak responded: "For 18 months, the police sat with statements of members who implicated me for giving instructions to them. Why didn't they approach me to ask me for my statement?"

Semenya asked why Vermaak did not divulge that information voluntarily to Ipid and the police.

Vermaak: "It's very funny because you were consulting with me and I informed you that I gave that instruction. You never asked me to correct my statement. Now you want to cross-examine me on that? You [Semenya] had that information."

Flaws within police's intervention methods
Vermaak is 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 SAPS wanted him to take the blame for the August 2012 deaths of mineworkers.

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

"I have raised my concern with the manner in which this protest was handled. It could not be done in the ordinary manner like a service delivery protest," Vermaak said at the time.

The Farlam commission of inquiry 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. – Sapa