‘Police tried to find Marikana scapegoat’

Salmon Vermaak told the inquiry his superiors wanted him to take the blame for the 34 deaths.

A screengrab of cellphone footage taken from the Marikana massacre.  Picture: Supplied.

JOHANNESBURG - A North West police air wing commander on Tuesday told the Farlam Commission of Inquiry his superiors wanted him to take the blame for the deaths of 34 striking Marikana miners.

The deadly shooting took place at the North West mining town on 16 August 2012.

President Jacob Zuma then established an inquiry to determine whether officers were justified in using lethal force against demonstrators.

Lieutenant Colonel Salmon Vermaak told the hearing the South African Police Service (SAPS) legal team and head of operational response told him he would be the fall guy.

But Vermaak says as soon as he realised the police's intentions, he started making detailed notes about his interaction with superiors and lawyers.

He informed both the national and provincial commissioners that he would only stick to the truth.

Vermaak told the hearing it is unacceptable that he would be held directly responsible for the killings.

He says he doesn't understand how he could be blamed for the incident, which made international headlines.

The lieutenant colonel claimed to have told Adriaan Calitz that a much more careful approach was needed to disperse the miners.

He said the strike was a lot more violent than service delivery protests in the area.

Vermaak also raised serious concerns about the experience of officers who managed the strike.

He said he was only informed of the intention to encircle the miners on the koppie and had no knowledge of an alternate plan.

At least 76 miners were also injured in the incident.

Ten others, including two policemen and two security guards, were killed in strike-related violence in the days leading up to the shooting.

The Marikana standoff has been described as the bloodiest shootout in post-apartheid South Africa.