A tangled cop web

2014-03-30 14:00

North West air wing chief Salmon Vermaak told the Marikana Commission of Inquiry this week his superiors ordered him to lie about what happened in a week in August 2012 that left 46 people dead.

City Press analysed the key differences in his testimony and that of three who came before him: North West commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo; her deputy, William Mpembe; and the second in charge on the day, operational commander Brigadier Adriaan Calitz.

Their testimony combined has presented two entirely different versions of events.

Athandiwe Saba explores how the four have explained these events in their testimony before the commission

When Salmon Vermaak took the stand at the Marikana commission this week, he became the latest senior officer to significantly alter the police’s narrative of events before and on August 16 2012.

Vermaak told retired Judge Ian Farlam and those at the commission that he was asked to blatantly lie.

City Press analysed the key differences in his testimony and that of three who came before him: North West commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo, her deputy William Mpembe and the second in charge on the day, operational commander Brigadier Adriaan Calitz.

Their testimony combined has presented two entirely different versions of events, particularly around the issue of who ordered the use of stun grenades and teargas on August 13, which led to the death of three miners and two policemen that day.

Another key difference is around whether Mpembe was being threatened by his own officers after the death of two of their colleagues.

Here’s how the four have explained these events in their testimony before the commission.


.?August?13: Two officers were killed and no one wants to admit who gave the instruction to fire tear gas and stun grenades.

Mbombo testified that at the time of the killings, she was on her way to Potchefstroom.

Mpembe called and said police officers had been attacked. Mbombo said she then called national police commissioner Riah Phiyega and briefed her.

Later that evening, she met with Mpembe at Marikana.

He did not say he had given the instruction to use tear gas and stun grenades against striking mine workers that day.

.?She also testified she was not aware Vermaak had allegedly removed Mpembe from the field to ensure his safety following threats on his life.

.?On August 16, she claimed, she was in the bathroom when 34 mine workers were shot dead on two koppies.

She only found out about the shootings later.

She testified she’d ordered her commanders to disarm the mine workers and ensure there was no further damage to property or injury to people.

How they did so, she said, was up to them.


.?August 13: Mpembe testified that he took over the dispersal of the miners assembled near the railway.

There was no specific disarmament plan.

He said he did not give the instruction for the use of the stun grenades and tear gas, even though he was the head of the operation.

.?He testified Vermaak removed him from the scene because some officers threatened to kill him after their colleagues were killed.

He said he had told Mbombo this and how he felt about it when briefing her that evening.

.?August 16: Testimony by other officers revealed Mpembe was removed from his position of overall commander because of what happened on August?13.

He said he was in a helicopter during the shootings on koppies 1 and 2.

The initial plan, he told Farlam, was to use barbed wire to protect the police and journalists from the mine workers.

Mine workers would then be asked to disperse into smaller groups, be disarmed and arrested.

But he said he saw a police Nyala in a different position from the air and was told by a colleague on the ground that the plan had changed.

At that time, Mpembe said he didn’t know what the changes were.


.?Calitz said officers were shocked by the death of two colleagues on August 13, but insisted this didn’t motivate their attack on mine workers on August?16.

.?As Mpembe’s second in command, he said he wasn’t aware of threats on Mpembe’s life by other officers.

.?Calitz said the plan to encircle the mine workers with barbed wire was already unlikely by the morning of August 16.

In a joint operations committee meeting that morning, he said, it was clear the plan was to disperse and arrest mine workers.

Calitz said he was the officer who instructed those on the ground to “engage, engage” with the mine workers.

Calitz also testified about the koppie, known as scene two, where 18 mine workers were killed.

He said this was the nearest place mine workers could run to from the first koppie because the police’s dispersal action was already under way.

Calitz testified that to his knowledge the mine workers “hiding” at scene two were not given a warning that police had surrounded the area and that they should come out and surrender their weapons.


.?He said the issue of stun grenades and tear gas on August?13 was discussed at a Potchefstroom meeting after the August 16 killings.

“[One of the officers]?...?told the general [Mpembe] that it was him [Mpembe himself] that had given these instructions.

“The general originally denied this. Three weeks later, nobody wanted to admit to giving such an instruction. He [Mpembe] admitted that he could have given this instruction, but that he could not have remembered it.”

.?Vermaak also testified that it was him who removed Mpembe from the scene on August?13 because the officers believed it was his fault that two police officers were dead.

.?He told the commission the only plan he knew about was that of encirclement. He was not made aware that plan had changed.

Vermaak testified he’d been told by his seniors, including Calitz, to lie about moving the mine workers to the second scene, where 18 people were shot dead.

His real role, he claimed, was to patrol above the scene in a helicopter.

He said he was in the air at the time of both sets of shootings on August 16.

He heard someone over the chopper’s radio reporting that shots were being fired at police officers from the second scene.

He said that at 4.21pm that day, police moved on to the koppie and started arresting mine workers.

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