Mystery of Marikana tear gas, clashes

2014-03-29 09:31
(Picture: AP)

(Picture: AP)

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Pretoria - Mystery still surrounds the identity of a police officer who ordered the firing of tear gas at Marikana that led to a fatal clash on 13 August 2012.

On Friday, chairperson of the Farlam Commission of Inquiry, retired Judge Ian Farlam sought greater clarity on this from North West air wing commander Salmon Vermaak.

Vermaak was one of the senior police officers present at the Lonmin labour unrest.

"Your affidavit, which you made on 21 January this year, doesn't coincide with what you say in your information note handed to this commission," said Farlam in Pretoria.

"You said the instruction from General [William] Mpembe that tear gas and stun grenades must be thrown triggered the assault on the SAPS [by protesters].

"You said Mpembe denied giving the instruction and only after Captain [Samuel] Thupe said he was next to the general when the instruction was given. Only after that General Mpembe admitted that it was him."

Major General Mpembe is North West deputy provincial police commissioner.

Farlam said Vermaak's affidavit said Mpembe initially denied giving the instructions. He later conceded he might have given the orders but he had forgotten.

Vermaak responded: "At first he denied it, after Captain Thupe directly confronted him about it and there was this discussion between them.

"General Mpembe then said if it was him, then he doesn't remember it."

Farlam said there still no clarity over who gave the instruction.

On 13 August 2012, the police were accompanying and monitoring a group of miners moving from a railway line towards a koppie.

The group had refused to surrender their weapons and started moving as Mpembe was instructing them to disarm.

As the protesters allegedly altered their route, heading towards an informal settlement nearby, some police officers who were at the scene have testified that an instruction was given to fire tear gas.

Tear gas fired

In response, the miners then charged at police and allegedly killed two officers. Three miners were killed in the clash.

When Mpembe testified at the inquiry, in August last year, he said a Warrant Officer Kuhn had fired tear gas at the protesting mine workers but he was unaware who had instructed Kuhn to do so.

Michelle le Roux, for the SA Human Rights Commission, asked Mpembe if he had informed provincial commissioner Zukisa Mbombo about the incident.

"I told the provincial commissioner, and that Kuhn himself could not say who he got the instruction from," he replied.

Earlier this week, Vermaak told the inquiry Mpembe was overcome by emotion and lost control after the two policemen were hacked to death at Marikana on 13 August 2012.

"He arrived at the scene and he was in a state of shock," Vermaak said at the commission's public hearings in Pretoria.

Police shot dead 34 people, mostly protesting miners, at Lonmin's platinum mining operations at Marikana, near Rustenburg, in North West on 16 August 2012.

At least 78 miners were wounded when police fired on the group gathered at a hill near the mine while allegedly trying to disarm and disperse them.

In the preceding week, 10 people, including the two policemen and two security guards, were killed in the strike-related violence.

The Farlam commission is probing the 44 deaths.

Read more on:    police  |  ian farlam  |  pretoria  |  marikana inquiry

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