Senior cop questioned about involvement in Marikana strike

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

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Female cops sent for rape counselling

Brigadier Sifiso Cele denies the rape allegations, saying that they are part of a smear campaign and that criminal charges should have been opened if the accusations were true

Marikana murder trial resumes

The eight-year battle for justice played out its next round in the Mahikeng high court this week

Zuma vs Ramaphosa? Neither is the leader South Africans deserve

Neither statesman could command sufficient authority in an ANC that remains mired in corruption and infighting and at the behest of big capital

George Bizos dies at 92

Renowned human rights lawyer George Bizos, who defended Nelson Mandela and other struggle icons during the treason trial and Rivonia trial, represented families at the TRC, and later represented Marikana miners’ families, has died

SA in dire need of a political spring tide

The only time change has occurred in South Africa is in response to global events such as World War II. The country is once again facing such an event — Covid-19 — and will have to react

Police brutality in South Africa exposed once again

The death of teenager Nathaniel Julius means we urgently need to refuse to allow politicians and police leadership to protect violent officers

Subscribers only

SAA bailout raises more questions

As the government continues to grapple with the troubles facing the airline, it would do well to keep on eye on the impending Denel implosion

ANC’s rogue deployees revealed

Despite 6 300 ANC cadres working in government, the party’s integrity committee has done little to deal with its accused members

More top stories

Finance probe into the Ingonyama Trust Board goes ahead

The threat of legal action from ITB chairperson Jerome Ngwenya fails to halt forensic audit ordered by the land reform minister

Ailing Far East Rand hospital purchases ‘vanity’ furniture

Dr Zacharia Mathaba, who purchased the furniture, is a suspected overtime fraudster and was appointed as Gauteng hospital chief executive despite facing serious disciplinary charges

Eusebius McKaiser: Reject the dichotomy of political horrors

Senekal shows us that we must make a stand against the loud voice of the populist EFF and racist rightwingers

Seals abort pups in mass die-off

There are a number of factors — a pollutant, virus or bacteria or malnutrition — may have caused the 12 000 deaths on Namibia’s coast

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday