I won’t be Marikana fall guy – cop

2014-03-25 16:55

The police wanted North West air wing commander Salmon Vermaak to take the blame for the deaths of Marikana miners, the Marikana Commission of Inquiry has heard.

The senior policeman was testifying at the public hearings of the inquiry in Centurion, south of Pretoria, today.

“In a consultation with the police legal team, it was mentioned to me that I am going to carry the responsibility for the people who were killed at koppie three,” he said.

“I realised that I should note everything down in my diary regarding meetings and discussions we were having [regarding Marikana incidents].”

Vermaak said he made it clear to the police legal team, national commissioner Riah Phiyega and the provincial commissioner Zukiswa Mbombo that he would only stick to the facts.

He said he kept “clear records” of the moves by the SA Police Service to place the Marikana blame at his doorstep.

Speaking in Afrikaans, Vermaak said he was disappointed by his superiors’ stance.

“I was disappointed that, all of a sudden, a finger was being pointed at me with all my years of public-order policing. I was being directly held responsible for the death of these people,” said Vermaak.

“Where do they base the allegations against me? It is not acceptable. Did they give me any other briefing about any other plan that was going to be implemented [on August 16 2012]?”

He said the only intervention plan he knew prior to the bloody August 16 2012 confrontation only involved encircling the thousands of protesters gathered at a hill in Marikana.

Vermaak also told the commission that he had received a call from Brigadier Adriaan Calitz, North West provincial head of operational response services, on January 9.

Regarding the conversation, Vermaak said Calitz told him that he [Vermaak] would be the one to take the fall for the Marikana shootings, particularly at koppie three.

“I told him that I was going to stick to the truth and nothing else. If there were mistakes made, I was going to admit them,” Vermaak said.

“Blame was being apportioned to me, I made an entry in my diary.”

Calitz was one of the operational commanders deployed at Marikana. He has previously testified at the inquiry.

Vermaak broke ranks with his employer when he started testifying at the inquiry on Monday.

He cited numerous flaws within the SAPS intervention methods to manage a lengthy wage-related protest at Lonmin mine’s Marikana plant.

“I have raised my concerns with the manner in which this protest was handled. It could not be done in the ordinary manner like a service-delivery protest,” said Vermaak.

“It was clear to me that there wasn’t much experience. The protests you get in the mines are more violent than the ordinary protests. They fight to their deaths.”

He said that by August 16 2012, it was known in the SAPS that the protesters had carried out certain rituals with sangomas and that the miners believed they were invincible before the August 16 fatal confrontation.

“These people were fearless. In the past it was believed that police or security officers’ bullets would turn into water. The fact that they had advanced on police made it clear that they believed they had the sangomas’ protection.”

Vermaak said armoured vehicles should have been used to protect police officers.

In the days leading up to August 16, he said he had cautioned Calitz that “a much more careful approach was needed” in dealing with the armed miners.

“He only sent me a message [saying] ‘thank you’, that’s all,” said Vermaak.

On August 16 2012, police shot and killed 34 mostly protesting miners at Lonmin’s platinum mining operations at Marikana, near Rustenburg in North West.

At least 78 miners were also wounded when police fired on the 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 the strike-related violence.

The commission, led by retired judge Ian Farlam, is probing the 44 deaths.

Unlike all other police officers who have testified at the inquiry, Vermaak is being led in giving his testimony by evidence leaders.

Other police officers have been led by SAPS lawyers at the commission.

Vermaak will be cross-examined by the police’s lawyers.

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