TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION
HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
SUBMISSIONS - QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
DATE: 21 MAY 1997
NAME: DOUW VERMEULEN
HELD AT: ATHLONE, CAPE TOWN
CHAIRPERSON: We had intended to call as our next witness Mr Salmon Pienaar, but we wish to show the video that has been spoken of which shows the event, and because of technical problems with the lights and so on we would like to show that at the time of the lunch break and we therefore would like now to call Mr Douw Vermeulen as our next witness.
DOUW VERMEULEN: (sworn states)
CHAIRPERSON: Ms Gobodo-Madikizela will lead the questions.
ADV VAN ZYL: Chairperson if I may, Mr Vermeulen testified before a Committee of this Commission on Monday. A statement was then handed to the Commission, I trust that you are in possession of that statement?
CHAIRPERSON: Yes we have a copy of the statement. Could we make sure that Mr Ntsebeza has one among his papers. Thank you.
ADV VAN ZYL: We have in the past asked the witnesses to read the statement, I don't know whether you wish him to read the statement. It was discussed with him on Monday but not all the members of the Commission were present at the time.
CHAIRPERSON: May I just consult with the other members.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: That was an "in camera" hearing and this is a public hearing, we want to be able to refer to the statement so if you could read it please.
ADV VAN ZYL: Thank you.
MR VERMEULEN: Could I continue Chairperson?
"I, Douw Vermeulen, hereby state under oath.
I am an adult male and I am a security advisor and I live in Goodwood.
I was approached by the Investigative Unit of the Truth Commission and notified that I would have to appear before the Commission on Monday the 19th of May to give evidence and to answer questions relating to the so-called Trojan Horse incident which took place on the 15th of October 1985 in Athlone, in which Shaun Magmoed, Michael Cheslyn Miranda and Jonathan Claasen died and others were injured".
I will now just mention that I was also subpoenaed to appear here today. I just add that to my statement.
"In order to assist the Committee I decided to make this affidavit and this affidavit is only to be used for purposes of the Commission's work and I understand that it cannot be used against me in any legal action.
During October 1985 I was a lieutenant in the South African Railway Police and stationed at Bellville at the Regional Task Force.
On the 15th of October 1985 there was a lot of unrest in the Athlone area and the focal points of the unrest were in Thornton Roads and Belgravia Road. Vehicles were stoned and burning objects were used to blockade roads and a lot of damage was done to private property, especially vehicles. At that stage the unrest had been continuing for some days and experience had taught us that there was not much use in trying to apprehend the ringleaders, or to try and arrest them by means of normal policing methods and normal police vehicles, because as soon as a police vehicle appeared on the scene the people would just disappear.
On the afternoon of the 15th of October 1985 I was summoned to the caravan which served as the Joint Operational Centre for the security forces that was stationed at Manenberg Police Station.
Mr Loedolff, the commanding officer of the Regional Task Group instructed me to go in the direction of Athlone with an unmarked vehicle. We were supposed to move in the direction of Athlone Police Station in Belgravia Road and then to Thornton Road, back to Old Lansdowne Road, back to Lansdowne Road, around Old Crossroads and Manenberg Police Station.
He pointed out a truck to me. In the back of this truck there were wooden crates and told me that my section members had to conceal themselves in these crates. His instructions were further that should we be attacked or stopped at road blockades we should try to arrest those responsible.
Mr Loedolff also mentioned to me that if it were to become necessary to open fire we should exercise caution so that the people on the left-hand side of the truck should fire in the left-hand direction and the same for the people on the right-hand side of the truck to prevent those people, members on the truck, actually firing at each other and thereby exposing their colleagues to danger.
The persons under my command were, on instructions of Loedolff, given 9mm pistols and shotguns. The shotguns were loaded with birdshot or AAA shot. The bigger type of shot, namely SSG and LG were not used on that particular day. I inspected the section members to make sure that they had their shotguns and that they were not loaded with any other type of ammunition other than AAA and no.1.
The following members were under my command on that day; Sgt A M Smith, of the Railway Police, he was the driver of the truck. Sgt Sayer from the South African Railway Police. He was the passenger in the front. He was also the notary of the section. W/O Swart from the South African Railway Police. Constable A J Smit from the South African Railway Police. Constable A J Rossel from the South African Railway Police, and Sgt J J Burger, South African Railway Police. Constable W K F Puchert of the South African Police. Constable P H du Toit, South African Police".
You will note - once again I deviate from my statement made to the Commission on Monday to say that we also decided that Constable, I am not sure, maybe he was Sergeant Frank van Niekerk, would also join us on the truck.
"Apart from the driver and the passenger the other people in the crates, they hid in the crates on the back of the truck except for Sergeant Burger who sat in a little compartment behind the driver. I was also in the back of the truck on the driver's side.
At about 16h45 we entered the unrest area of Athlone in this truck. On the corner of Thornton and St Simons Roads in Athlone the vehicle was attacked by a group of people who stoned the vehicle using stones, half bricks and other objects.
From where I was concealed in the back of the truck I heard the windscreen breaking and how the driver brought the vehicle to a halt. I immediately stood up and noticed that they were burning blockades in front of the truck, to the right. The vehicle was stationary and I notice that on my side of the truck, that is the right side of the truck, there was between a 100 and 200 people, who according to my observation, were busy hurling objects at the truck.
From experience I knew that the normal modus operandi when a group attacked such a truck, was to first try and bring to a halt this vehicle, to then stone it, to then move closer and slash the tyres to prevent it from carrying on. Thereafter it would be set alight. I also realised that we were in danger and especially the people in the front of the truck were already in danger of their lives. There was no doubt in my mind that if we didn't immediately react to this attack we would probably not emerge from this attack alive.
I then took my shotgun loaded with AAA and fired in the direction of the attackers on my side, that is the right side of the vehicle. Because I told the section members before our departure that should we find ourselves in danger that they should not shoot until I had given the order, my section members, after I fired the first shot, also started firing at the attackers.
After we commenced firing the attackers ceased their attack and I gave instructions to my members to stop firing.
Members then jumped from the truck on my instruction and tried to arrest some of the attackers. Quite a few arrests were in fact made. I did not take part in the arrests because I was protecting the truck.
Although I can't remember exactly how many shots I fired I noticed that I said in my statements after the incident that I had fired seven shots and I accept that as correct. All the shots fired by myself were aimed at the attackers who were attacking us with stones and other objects.
I also remember that I fired at a person wearing a green shirt who was busy throwing stones at us, although I can't say whether I actually hit the person, a person with a green shirt who I think was the same person was later found dead in a house nearby. I last saw the person running in the direction of that house. I later ascertained that the person was Shaun Magmoed.
On the left-hand side of the truck two people were fatally wounded, Michael Miranda and Jonathan Claasen. Because my attention was focused on the attack coming from the right-hand side of the truck I can't give any further details regarding the fatal wounding of these two last-mentioned people, although I accept and assume that they died as a result of shooting wounds sustained in the incident. One of them was a young boy. He was approximately 10 years old.
I have no doubt that the attack on us was unlawful and that if I and my members did not react to these attackers we would have been killed or very seriously injured, especially if the attackers succeeded in setting the vehicle alight causing us to escape in amongst the attackers.
I must point out that the conduct of a crowd, who have already commenced with acts of violence, that is unpredictable and that many people had been killed by crowds in unrest situations in the country. Although I expected stones to be thrown at the vehicle and that our actions were specifically aimed at arresting some of these culprits I never foresaw the possibility of an attack of such intensity and launched by so many people. I was caught unawares by surprise. The intensity of the attack was of such a nature that the only response in the circumstances was to start shooting at the attackers.
After the incident I made two affidavits, the first dated the 19th of October 1985 and a supplementary affidavit dated the 12th of February 1987. I also testified on the 17th of July 1986 in the prosecution of E Surja and 12 others who were charged in the Regional Court on charges of public violence arising from the incidents of this particular day.
Afterwards on the 4th of February 1988 I testified during a formal inquest into the death of the persons who died during this incident.
I was told, and I believe that it is correct that the Commission is in possession of both the statements which I made, as well as the transcription of the testimony that I gave at the two occasions.
I am also aware of the fact that a video recording was made of the incident and that that is similarly in the possession of the Commission.
I do not have any other documentation or evidentiary material which could help the Commission in regard to this particular incident.
The incident obviously had a tremendous effect on my life. It, amongst other things, led to me losing 22 kgs of weight. I went down from 83 kgs to 61 kgs and brought about a lot of tension in my marriage. This brought about a divorce in 1990, but I had already left my wife and child for some considerable time before the final divorce date.
Apart from this I was also charged, along with my section members and others, in a private prosecution in the Supreme Court in Cape Town on charges of murder arising from this incident. After a protracted trial of about five months we were found not guilty. An appeal was noted to the Appellate Division in Bloemfontein but the appeal was also unsuccessful. The court case, which took place about five years after the incident, led to further severe tension between myself and the people around me, and that is in fact putting it mildly.
In the middle of 1990, I was, on my own request, transferred to the South African Defence Force where I did internal investigations. Since 1994 I have been working in the private sector as a security advisor.
Today, 12 years after this incident and after being thoroughly cross-examined about what happened on that day on two occasions, and being put through a long trial and having listened to my conduct being criticised I am still convinced that if I had not shot at the attackers on that afternoon my members and myself would probably have died on that day, or would have been seriously injured.
The fact that people and especially a young child lost their lives in this incident is something which will stay with me till the day of my death. I am sorry that such a thing had to happen.
Today I realise that if the government of the day had started on the road of negotiations at a much earlier stage incidents such as these would never have taken place.
Signed: Douw Vermeulen".
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thank you Mr Vermeulen. Have you ever been involved in a combat situation before the incident on the 15th of October 1985?
MR VERMEULEN: Could I ask you - can you hear me?
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I can hear you. Can you hear me?
MR VERMEULEN: Ja, I can - there was just a moment when I couldn't hear you. May I ask, you are referring to a combat situation, could you please be more specific.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Well what would you describe as a combat situation?
MR VERMEULEN: A combat situation, if you ask me to define it in my own words it would be a situation that you would find in warfare or a conventional war. I had previously been involved in stone-throwing incidents.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Have you ever been involved in such a combat situation?
MR VERMEULEN: No never.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: And crowd control, have you ever been involved in crowd control before the Trojan Horse events?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes I was involved in crowd control but on a smaller scale, and also relating to crowds larger than this particular crowd, for instance during so-called illegal marches. I was involved in some of those but never in something exactly like this.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: So when you say you've been involved in crowd control of a smaller scale what exactly do you mean? Do you mean the crowd on Thornton Road was the biggest you were ever confronted with?
MR VERMEULEN: It was the largest crowd who had ever thrown stones at myself or my members of my section. I had been involved in smaller crowds. I might be wrong if I try and estimate now after 12 years but if I have to do so today I think perhaps groups of about 20 people where a single stone was hurled at the Police from quite a distance away.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Have you ever used ammunition on any crowd that you've been involved in?
MR VERMEULEN: I can't remember, if you could perhaps be more specific, perhaps give me more details about a specific incident. I don't know whether teargas or whatever was used. But if you can give me specific incidents then maybe I can help you.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Well maybe you could give me specific incidents when you were controlling a crowd and using ammunition, that's the question. Have you ever been involved in any crowd control where you had to use ammunition?
MR VERMEULEN: Chairperson I'd like to help you, I'd like to be as honest as possible and I would like to give you details of specific incidents but at the moment I can't think of a specific incident. If it occurs to me during the course of the day I will mention it.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Ja I see you really are trying to help me. How long have you been a policeman for?
MR VERMEULEN: I started as a student in 1975. I was too young at that stage to go to the Police College. I joined the Railway Police just after my 16th birthday and there it was a rule that you could only go to the College when you turned 18. This took place in 1976. I was part of the last intake of the Railway Police, the intake of June to December and from 1976 to 1990 I was attached to the Police.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I really want to know more, a bit about how in the past you have acted in crowd control situations so my question relates more to the length of time or the number of years you spent in the force particularly in relation to controlling crowds. Surely you could remember, I mean did you control crowds in 1984, in 1983, in 1980, when did you start? Was the Athlone event the first time you ever controlled a crowd? I am sure somewhere in your memory you will find that bit of information.
MR VERMEULEN: I already told you on Monday, and I would like to repeat that for the benefit of those who weren't present on Monday, if I remember correctly I told you on Monday that in August 1985 that I really became involved in the unrest situation when we were seconded as a group to cooperate with the South African Police. So my experience was from August 1985 to when this incident happened in October 1985, so it was about two months.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: So was this your fifth, your fourth, your tenth experience? Just roughly, I mean I just really want to have an idea of how often before the Athlone events had you been involved in crowd situations.
I'd like to ask you not to refer to the Monday experience because that is an in camera hearing and it is a confidential hearing and if you start referring to it then we might start responding to it and making reference to it. It's for the use of Commissioners when we are making a finding and we are not allowed to use it in public. So please if you could respond to the question.
MR VERMEULEN: Firstly my apologies, secondly, it's difficult ...(intervention)
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Was it the first time you were involved in a crowd-control situation when you went to Athlone, or was it the second?
MR VERMEULEN: This specific day in Athlone, is that what you are referring to?
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I am referring to the specific day and I am referring to the specific situation, had you ever had another similar situation before?
MR VERMEULEN: That was the first one on that particular day. It was the first of its kind for me.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Is this according to your memory or what your Advocate is telling you? I just want to know.
MR VERMEULEN: No my Advocate is not actually prompting me here. I can recall only one such an incident and that is the incident for which we are appearing here today. If you will allow me ...(intervention)
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: No I accept that, thank you.
MR VERMEULEN: I can't recall whether I had been in a crowd control incident earlier that day or not.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: So this was the first one that you were ever involved in? I just want to make that point.
MR VERMEULEN: The Interpreter used the word the first one in which you had ever been involved, if that's what you mean I told you I can't recall whether I had, earlier that day, before 4 o'clock in the afternoon had been involved in controlling an unrest situation, that is what I recall. I don't know what the exact words were that the Interpreter used.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Now I am not sure whether the problem is the Interpreter or with my question to you. I am not talking about that particular day, I am not asking you if you were involved on that day before you went to Athlone. And if I say were you ever involved, it's not referring to the day it's referring to other incidents of crowd control. Now could you respond please so that we can pass on to the next question. I mean it doesn't matter if this is the first time fine, say so, all I want to know was it the first time or are there other similar incidents in which you were involved, that's all I want to know. If you can't remember fine, but I just want to know had you ever been involved in an incident similar to Athlone?
MR VERMEULEN: I was involved in previous incidents, yes, as I told you it's difficult to give you numbers. If I think of the Athlone area then I can recall one incident, if one could call it an incident because it's circumstances were rather different, so I have problems myself in seeing the comparisons here. I think it was the 10th of October and I think it happened in Belgravia Road. Burning blockades had been erected, they were very high these blockades or obstructions. What I can recall is that we were driving, there were a whole convoy of cars on the way to these burning obstructions and at some point all the vehicles stopped, the drivers got out of the vehicles and the next moment ...(intervention)
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: So in other words you've never been involved in a similar case, incident? In other words you were inexperienced to be engaged in an operation such as the one that Mr Loedolff sent you to? You totally had no experience of this kind of situation and you were inexperienced to handle it?
MR VERMEULEN: No I had never been involved in that kind of a situation. As I said to you just now ...(intervention)
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: So clearly you were not the person to head a team of people who were going to make an arrest in a crowd situation when you had no previous experience of crowd control?
ADV VAN ZYL: Chairperson, if the witness could just be allowed to complete his answers before the next question is asked it would be appreciated.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I am sorry. I don't know which question you want me to repeat, but the point I was making is it seems to me that you had no experience whatsoever with the major operation that you had been sent out to by Mr Loedolff.
MR VERMEULEN: Yes I had other experiences, but yes that was the first time in my life that I experienced this kind of thing.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Weren't you worried that you were sent into an area which was potentially explosive when you had no experience at all?
MR VERMEULEN: As I said I went to many situations, today I say many, it feels like there were many, in the two months that I worked with the Riot Unit and I handled them well. Today I think that I handled them well, or to the best of my abilities. Situations such as the one that happened on this day, if your conclusion is that I was incompetent, yes, I had never before experienced anything of this kind, I didn't have experience of this kind of thing and if you then want to say that I was incompetent and you want to link that to my lack of experience that is your right to do so.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Well I was really basing it on what you were telling me. Can you go into the kinds of ammunition you carried on that day, I just want to outline it so that you can refer back to it again. Can you just go back and tell us what kind of ammunition you had in the vehicle. I am not talking about ammunition that was loaded, I am talking about the kind of ammunition that you had in the vehicle. If you could just tell us again please.
MR VERMEULEN: When you ask me that question about the ammunition I was carrying with me I would have to lie to say that I had more ammunition that I carried with me or whatever. I can remember what was loaded into my shotgun and I remember that I had a 9mm pistol. I can't recall whether I had any other kinds of ammunition with me.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Not you personally but as the person who was in charge of the team, what kind of ammunition or whatever, bullets or whatever kinds of ammunition you would load into a gun, what did you have in the vehicle when you went to physically check what each of the policemen on that day had, what did they have? I just want to go through the list with you quickly.
MR VERMEULEN: My members had birdshot, AAA. They had their handguns, sidearms. I think they all had 9mm pistols, but the 9mm .38 was the standard hand gun. I think they all had their 9mm pistols and that's all I can recall.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Now which ones would be less lethal if the instruction was to use less violence, which ones of these would you use? I am not asking which ones you used but I am asking which ones would you use if the instruction was to use less violence.
MR VERMEULEN: If my instruction was to use as little force as possible then I think the birdshot would be the one I would use.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: So that would be the choice, the first choice that you make?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes, that would be my first choice.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: And presumably because the expectation was to arrest people you would be prepared to use birdshot, right?
MR VERMEULEN: Could you please repeat the question?
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Because you had set out to make an arrest you obviously would be loaded - your guns would be loaded with birdshot or you would be prepared to use birdshot, so whatever firearms you were using they would be loaded with birdshot?
MR VERMEULEN: I would just like to say something. If I set out to make an arrest and it's at all possible to take or use no ammunition whatsoever then that is what I would do. You don't need ammunition to perform an arrest. You don't have to shoot a person to arrest him. You can arrest him without shooting him. So the ammunition loaded into the vehicles and also into the rifles or guns weren't taken to perform arrests with, I hope you understand what I am trying to say.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I think at this point we have been asked to ask for a break and while we continue with a bit of questioning I will ask Christel to put up the video - oh Dr Wendy Orr is making the arrangements to put up the video, but maybe we will continue with a bit of questioning before.
And to return to the instruction, what exactly was the instruction given by Mr Loedolff to you? Mr Loedolff has told us what he told you but we would like you to tell us what Mr Loedolff instructed you to do.
CHAIRPERSON: Sorry, can I just interrupt you for a moment. I am not sure that our instructions were clear. We would like to show the video now and we would like to ask the people who are responsible for putting it together to come forward and we would like to give this opportunity for the families and relatives and friends of the people who died or were injured to leave the room now so that they will not suffer distress.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thanks Madam Chair.
RELATIVES AND FAMILY LEAVE THE ROOM
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Could you just answer the last question before we move on to the video please, could you answer the last question?
MR VERMEULEN: Right. You may ask the question.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: That's fine. I asked a question and I thought you remembered what the question was. We can return to the question.
ADV VAN ZYL: Chairperson, the video that you are about to show can you perhaps inform us whether this is an edited version as was shown on the BBC which had about 14 cuts made to it, or is it some other video?
CHAIRPERSON: I am really not certain of the technical instruction - it is the video that was shown on public broadcast. I am not certain about the number of cuts in it. I will try and find that out.
ADV VAN ZYL: Then it must be an edited version. Thank you.
CHAIRPERSON: And I would also like to appeal to teachers and people responsible here for young people that they should consider the implications of watching the video which could be distressing and that perhaps teachers should either withdraw with their students or at least be certain to be able to advise them and help them if necessary.
ADV VAN ZYL: Chairperson may those witnesses who do not wish to see this video, like the family members, also leave the hall please?
CHAIRPERSON: Yes, I was just going to ask what you would like to do, that's fine.
ADV VAN ZYL: Thank you.
CHAIRPERSON: Either leave the hall or move to another place if you prefer.
VIDEO IS SCREENED
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Dr Orr if you could rewind the video and stop just after the shooting, if you can just rewind, okay we will just stop whenever, thank you.
VIDEO IS RE-SCREENED
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thank you Dr Orr, thanks.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. We will now adjourn for lunch and since we are running rather late I would like to ask that we take no more than 40 minutes for lunch and be back here at two o'clock.
CHAIRPERSON: We resume this afternoon with Ms Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela asking questions of Mr Vermeulen.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thank you Madam Chair and welcome back Mr Vermeulen. I would just like to remind you that you are under oath.
DOUW VERMEULEN: (s.u.o.)
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: We would like to go back to the question of instruction, and if you could tell us what was Mr Loedolff's instruction to you on the day on which you sat on this operation that became known as the Trojan Horse?
MR VERMEULEN: Can I proceed and read it to you?
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: You could just tell me in whatever way you wish, but I would just like to know what his instruction was.
MR VERMEULEN: As earlier mentioned I was summoned by radio from the area in which I had been working. Major Loedolff gave me certain instructions and told me that I had, along with my section members, to follow a certain route. I have already told you the route, it was Klipfontein, Belgravia, Thornton, Lansdowne, round Old Crossroads, back to Manenberg. He also appointed the members to accompany me and he gave me instructions as to the kind of weapons to be used, with the instruction also that the people to be arrested were the people throwing stones or erecting barricades.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Now earlier on this afternoon you mentioned that firearms carried birdshot, AAA, I think that's what you mentioned, is that what Mr Loedolff told you to carry?
MR VERMEULEN: That is correct, yes.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: In terms of using the type of firearms and ammunition that you had to use what type of ammunition did Mr Loedolff tell you to use?
MR VERMEULEN: He said that the members should load their shotguns with AAA birdshot and also carry their 9mm sidearms.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Now this is what he said they should carry and load but did he give any instruction in terms of what kind of firearms to use on the crowd?
MR VERMEULEN: No the instruction he gave me about the use of firearms was that this type of ammunition should be used only in case of an attack upon us.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: And you wish to state this on oath, that this is all that Mr Loedolff told you to do, that you should use AAA when it was necessary?
MR VERMEULEN: I said AAA and birdshot that's all I can remember that he said.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I'd like us to move to the actual firing, what prompted you to fire your first shots on the crowds?
MR VERMEULEN: When the vehicle arrived at St Simons Road I heard the vehicle being hit and I could hear the windscreen breaking. I moved into a standing position and I was facing towards the right of the truck. I used the term in my statement that it was raining stones. I saw a crowd of people around the vehicle and I realised that we were already in danger, specifically the two members in front of the truck. And as a result of the objects and stones being thrown at the vehicle that is what caused me to start firing.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I just want to be clear that we understand the sequence of events. You say that you saw that there were people around the truck, at what point did you see people around the truck?
MR VERMEULEN: As I said when I got up and I could see what was happening outside of the crate, that was the observation I made.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: My original question was what prompted you to shoot and you explained that when you saw these people around the truck that there were many people you thought that the two men in front were in danger and so you started shooting, I am not sure that fits in well with the image of what happened as we saw in the video. According to the video it doesn't seem to suggest that you had any moments to observe anything. The video suggests that you jumped out and shot. So if you could explain to us, if there's something that we are missing, I mean there could have been holes in your boxes so that you could see. If you could please enlighten us precisely when exactly did you see.
MR VERMEULEN: ...(intervention)
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Sorry can I interrupt you, I just don't want us to go back to what you say you said. What I would like to know, to find out from you is did you really shoot after making the observation or did you just jump out and shoot without observing the people around the truck?
MR VERMEULEN: No I started shooting after I had seen what was going on.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I am really struggling with that response, I know that that's what you have told me, and you've said many times as you have said and you have indeed said so, but what I am struggling with is to understand your response to the question in relation to what we saw happening on the video. So I really urge you to reconsider, to re-think and probably re-state whether in fact you really shot after making the observation or you shot without making the observation that there were people around you.
MR VERMEULEN: Maybe you should have allowed me just now to qualify my answer. I think perhaps we would have been able to understand each other. Please allow me to say once again that I am going to try and answer you. When I got out from underneath the crate I could see people and I could see that the stone-throwing had already commenced and that caused me to start shooting.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: In what direction did you shoot?
MR VERMEULEN: I shot to the right of the truck.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: To the right of the truck, at whom?
MR VERMEULEN: I shot at the people who were stoning the vehicle.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: You see this is really, it's very difficult for me, I might be a bit slow or you know slow to make connections but it's really difficult for me to understand what you are saying.
You are trying to explain to us that you made an observation that people around - you are in a box that is closed, that I believe has no holes, nothing to make it possible for you to see through it, you make an observation according to what you are saying, when you are in the box, you open the box, you jump out, you see who are throwing stones and then you shoot.
Now we could accept that but given the fact that we have the benefit of the footage of the video which you saw earlier on today, there is no way that what you are saying now to us is the correct thing that happened on the day. It doesn't seem to us that you actually saw because there was between the moments that the first stone was thrown and your shooting there is like a split second. So the activities that you are describing now don't fit in with our observation or our viewing of this video. So can you explain to us that contradiction please?
MR VERMEULEN: As I said earlier and I am sorry I have to use the phrase again, well I must start by qualifying something. It wasn't a matter of opening the box, the box was open at the top and as I said I got up out of this box, and the moment I emerged from the box I saw what was happening, I saw stones being thrown and realised that we were being attacked and I shot. As you said it happened in a fraction of a second.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I will just say this one last time and we will move on to the next question, but I just want to make the point and you are welcome to respond to it. According to what you say you jumped out, you saw and then you started shooting, according to the video you jumped out and shot, that is what I am struggling to understand, and that's why I was hoping that perhaps you could explain the contradiction. Maybe this is not how things happened, maybe you are in a position to review your position then I don't know, but I am really just struggling with that contradiction.
Now when you started shooting you were shooting at the people on the right-hand side ...(intervention)
ADV VAN ZYL: Chairperson I am sorry to interrupt at this stage. The witness is being confronted with a video. He left the hall at the time of the showing, or he didn't want to see it again, I just want to put that on record.
Secondly, I have asked whether this video was edited or not and we are still not sure what the position is. It certainly looked as if it had been edited. So it maybe, I am not saying it is, but it maybe dangerous to rely on that video if you are talking time. Thank you.
CHAIRPERSON: We note that Advocate van Zyl. I am told the video is not edited. We will need to be absolutely certain about that and we will check that.
Secondly I think that Ms Gobodo is willing to continue without pursuing that question.
ADV VAN ZYL: Thank you.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thank you Madam Chair. I think that - we do appreciate the difficulty, but we've had many witnesses come here to the Commission even witnesses who came to testify about the incident who struggled with the memory of the events themselves and many of them cried through their testimony and that is expected. When people re-tell an experience that was traumatic it is part of it and we are hoping that as part of the catharsis, as part of the way of dealing with the trauma, it is one way to deal with the trauma from the depths of themselves. So it is important, and we perceive this process as important. It is more important to speak truthfully about the incident because that is one way in which any person suffering from trauma can release himself or herself from the pressure of the trauma. And for that reason I may have to get back to the video. I will not be able to promise that I will not go back to the video. This is part of the evidence, part of the testimony and the trauma, re-traumatising of people is unfortunate, but fortunately one consequence of it is that when people speak the truth they are released from the burden of the trauma, somehow.
I will just ask one last time, or rather mention that the video is not edited. We do not have editing facilities. We got the video from CBS, a copy of the original video and it is not edited. So I am referring to the video as unedited. It is a copy of the original and it is not edited.
CHAIRPERSON: Sorry, if I may just say ...(intervention)
ADV VAN ZYL: Chairperson I would question that statement.
CHAIRPERSON: I think what I would like to place on record is that we have not edited the video in any way. Of course we cannot say what news editors may have done.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thank you Madam Chair. I do not have the skill to comment on video material, but I am not sure if editors, just in terms of the way we saw the video it didn't seem as if there is anything edited out, I am not sure how it would happen between the shooting and the throwing of the stones, but really I do not have the professional expertise to comment on whether in fact the video does show signs of having been edited particularly at that point that I am talking about.
I was asking the question of, my question in relation to your firing activity. When you started firing you fired at a group of people, were these people throwing stones?
MR VERMEULEN: That is correct.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: So according to your memory of the events on that day you jumped out and you immediately saw who was throwing stones and you started firing?
MR VERMEULEN: We use the word "who" was throwing stones. What I saw on that day is that the crowd on the right-hand side of the truck were all busy throwing stones at the truck. I've already used the phrase a very intense attack and that is how I experienced it on that day.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: In what way were your lives in danger on that day?
MR VERMEULEN: I hope I am understanding your question correctly. Our lives were endangered by these objects thrown at the truck and at us.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: And when you started firing your first shot what did the crowd do?
MR VERMEULEN: In earlier testimony in a court case I used the term "fell back", and by that I don't mean that they turned around and ran away. In the period during which I fired the seven shots and you saw the video, for that period of time whilst I was firing people were throwing stones, if that answers your question.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: And what did they do after you fired your shots?
MR VERMEULEN: What I can say is that the group stopped throwing stones, they ran away, disappeared into the houses, disappeared down the road, I will just describe it as running away.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: So did they run away after you fired the first shots or did they run away after a long firing session?
MR VERMEULEN: As I said earlier how I recall it is that during the firing of the shots, the shots that I fired, in that period the stone-throwing was still carrying on. After I had stopped shooting my observation or opinion was that the stone-throwing had stopped.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: In other words you had to fire, in your case you fired seven shots and the other men fired their own number of shots but in total there were about 39 shots fired, so would you argue that you had to fire 39 shots before the crowds actually dispersed?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes. I think it was 39, I am not quite sure. If you say there were 39 shots I will accept that. I know I had fired seven shots on my side and when I stopped firing the stone-throwing had been averted on my side of the truck. I can't say for sure what the position was on the left-hand side of the truck.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: So you would argue that people started running away after, at the end of your firing, they didn't run away after your first shots, they waited until you had fired and your men had fired a total of 39 shots before they started running away?
MR VERMEULEN: No. After I had fired my seventh shot they started running away. My experience was that during my firing of shots and up until the seventh shot there were stones being thrown.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Were these shots from the same firearm?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes, mine.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I mean they were from the same - your firearm, but were they from the same firearm? Did you have to use another firearm or did you have to reload or anything? Were you firing from the same firearm?
MR VERMEULEN: No mine were all fired from the one firearm.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: So the crowds thereafter ran after you had emptied your firearm?
MR VERMEULEN: That is correct.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I just want to make a comment that I find it difficult to believe that people would stand by while you were firing shots. But one question I would like to ask is how far were you, your truck, from the crowd?
MR VERMEULEN: As I've already said the truck was surrounded by people and after 12 years it is very difficult for me to estimate. It was a single carriageway, it was a normal pavement and I remember there was a house set slightly back on the plot so from where I was to where the house started it's difficult for me to estimate.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I guess I'm not really talking about precise measurements here but if you could estimate, what you are suggesting therefore is that between the truck and the house which is really right on the pavement as we heard yesterday, you are talking about Mrs Ryklief's home I believe, between that house and the pavement there could only be just about a couple of, maybe a metre even I mean at most, a metre between the truck and the crates, would that be a fair estimate?
MR VERMEULEN: If you will allow me I will try to explain using dimensions and points that we have in this room. As I remember it perhaps if I could draw a line where the middle bouquet is, I think that was the distance from between the edge of the truck to where the pavement started and then there was a normal pavement width which would perhaps bring us as far as to the furthest point, that is where the sound equipment is on the stage. And if I remember correctly you mentioned Mrs Ryklief's home, I am assuming that we are referring to the same house, I would then say just behind the booth, the interpreting booth, that is more-or-less the distance. That's more-or-less how I recall it.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: In other words just to rephrase and to try and understand myself you mentioned points which I don't really see. Your truck would be where the bouquet is and the crowd would be about here, is that what you are saying? The truck is where you are, the pavement is where the bouquet is and the crowd is where we are?
MR VERMEULEN: No, no I gave you the distances. If this is the truck then the pavement would be more-or-less where the middle bouquet is and then there would be a pavement's width which would bring you to the loudspeaker and then the open piece of land just in front of the house to where the house starts, if I have to estimate it would be as far as just behind the interpretation booths. From the truck to the house there were people in that whole area.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: And where is the crowd then?
MR VERMEULEN: From the truck across the pavement right up to the where the house started.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Fine. Now in terms of firing what consequences did you expect when you fired at a crowd that seemed to be as close as you are describing now, what kind of consequences?
MR VERMEULEN: Very difficult question once again to answer after so many years. After I saw that the attack had commenced, well I am not actually sure what I expected but I wanted to avert this attack, and when I emerged from the crate and saw what was happening I just realised that I was not going to get out alive from that situation. So I find it very difficult to answer the question with any more particularity than what I have just done.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: In your professional opinion what do you think the consequences of firing AAA and no.1 on a crowd with the distance that you have described now?
MR VERMEULEN: If you are asking my opinion on that I would say today, yes, should the people be hit they would definitely be seriously injured.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: This danger to your lives and threats, what - just to kind of picture the kind of danger that was awaiting you and the kind of threat to your lives that you suggest there was, what kind of damage to the truck that you were driving?
MR VERMEULEN: After one of the court cases we were shown certain photographs taken at some stage when I wasn't present, and if I have to describe these photographs, as far as I can remember there was some damage to the truck. In the past I used the term that the windscreen had been actually broken by means of stones or bricks. There were holes in the windscreen caused by stone-throwing. I can remember one specific mark and I have described it before on some previous occasion and I will do so again. If I hold my hand like this, keeping it slightly concave then there was a piece of metal in the doorframe, when I saw this mark afterwards it was near the driver's door and I thought to myself that the object which had caused this dent, if it was able to cause such a deep indentation then I can only imagine what damage it could have caused had it hit a persons head for instance. I know there were other marks on the vehicle but I can't remember exactly what they were or where they were.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: What did you expect? You were going into a situation that you knew was potentially explosive according to your own definition, what did you expect? Were you surprised that there were these things, objects?
MR VERMEULEN: Firstly, I never expected such an attack. I was taken totally by surprise and in the situations in which we worked in those times you regularly found that single stones were thrown at you, sometimes at close range, sometimes from further away, but I never expected anything like this and I had never experienced anything like what I did experience on that day.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: So you were really expecting just small stones and little things like that, nothing as strong as you confronted?
MR VERMEULEN: No I didn't mention small stones or anything like that. Before this incident there were occasions when bricks or half bricks or bigger stones had been thrown at myself or members of my section, but never on the scale which happened on that particular day.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: So you never expected the scale. But what surprises me is that you loaded, you were loaded with lethal ammunition and yet you did not expect as much as you say you were confronted with?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes, as you've said we were armed with such-like ammunition and you are also correct when you say that we didn't expect anything of the kind. I have to think back today, my instructions were to deal with road blockades and stone-throwers, you would sometimes have between three and ten people at such a road blockade who would throw stones at passing vehicles. I certainly didn't expect the type of crowd which we found that day.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: But if you didn't expect as much as you got why then arm yourselves to the extent that you did when your intention was to deal with something of a lesser extent and to make arrests?
MR VERMEULEN: You used the term "armed to the teeth", for us it was simply a normal ammunition, birdshot and AAA and shotguns. I wouldn't describe it as such, as being "armed to the teeth".
CHAIRPERSON: Mr Ntsebeza you want to pursue that question?
MR NTSEBEZA: Thank you Chair. I have a problem with those replies Mr Vermeulen. In your statement, you stated as having been your experience, paragraph 9, you stated as having been your experience that whenever a group of people attacked a vehicle with the view of putting it alight first they would bring it to a standstill, then thereafter they would throw it with stones, then they would move closer to it to punch its tyres so that the car could not go further, thereafter to put it on fire. Now you state it as your experience that this was so, how else could it have done, how else could it become - if you say you didn't expect the sort of attack that you experienced, how worse, could it ever have been worse than that?
MR VERMEULEN: Chairperson I am going to try and understand the question ...(intervention)
MR NTSEBEZA: The question is, you are saying to questions put to you that you didn't expect, on that particular day, an attack on the scale that you got, and you are giving that, as I understand your evidence, as a reason that you went as far as you did, namely resorting to the use of firearms. Now I'm trying to get from you how worse it would have been in terms of expectations, if in your experience as you stated, you knew, even before you went there, especially as it happened that in the manner in which things happened, in your experience, people would attack you if they had a view to put your vehicle on fire, they would try and force you to a standstill, throw it with stones, puncture your tyres so that you should not move and then thereafter put it on fire.
Now what I am trying to get, to understand from you is, how can you say you didn't expect an attack of the nature you got if, what I've just described coming out of your statement, was the measure of experience? It's all about having, whether you could not have foreseen that what happened would indeed happen.
MR VERMEULEN: Chairperson yes, I did not expect such an attack. I used the expression in my statement that I knew from experience and the experience to which I referred there was the modus operandi or method used by people setting vehicles alight. I had never experienced it myself but I had heard about these methods from my colleagues who attended certain scenes where these things had happened or you would just hear that these things had happened afterwards, so that's what I based my experience on. And I never thought that such a thing could happen to me.
And on that day when I realised that we had already been brought to a standstill and we were surrounded and attacked then I realised that that was what was going to happen to me.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Thank you Madam Chair. Mr Vermeulen if you could tell me a little bit more about the kinds of procedures that Police are expected to follow when they go on these operations, are there any standard procedures?
MR VERMEULEN: I have only received fair treatment from you and I would like to return that courtesy. Could I ask you to be specific, do you know what happened before, what is supposed to happen beforehand or afterwards, could you perhaps just make the question a little bit more specific and then I can also try and give you a specific answer.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: One of the things that was mentioned by Mr Loedolff, for example, is that it's something to do with the legal framework that guided these kinds of operations. I don't remember his exact words, but he made reference to the fact that whenever these operations were planned they were guided by certain legal framework, and I think during the questioning by Mr Ntsebeza he went on to - or Mr Ntsebeza articulated for him what this legal framework is. Now in addition to that there usually are procedures that Police use or that Police refer to when they go into these operations, procedures about the kinds of ammunition to be used, how to confront certain kinds of crowds, those kinds of things, are you aware of any such procedure?
MR VERMEULEN: I could give you two answers to this. If I remember Mr Loedolff's evidence he referred to Section 49 and he referred to Section 49 in his instructions to me. Now it's quite some time since I've left the Police and my legal knowledge isn't up to scratch, but if I recall the section correctly it is a section dealing with what the Police can or may do when there is no other alternative to arresting a person. The Section provides that you may shoot at a person if he commits a certain scheduled offence. It then becomes necessary to arrest this person. You may shoot him in certain circumstances and that that shooting then could be done with impunity.
Because I am personally very opposed to this type of arrest I had never and never will arrest a person where I have to first shoot him dead. If that is the case he must rather just run away and must be apprehended in some other way later or get away.
But yes, he focused my attention on this aspect, and I think at that time I was more familiar with the Section than I am today. In my view it is perhaps one of those sections which should never have been put onto the statute book.
But as far as the procedure is concerned, your next question, if I understand you correctly about the types of ammunition, the firearms to be used ...(intervention)
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Yes there is one - I have a translated version in front of me actually which I think you are aware of, this details the kind of - this is an ordinary, this is not a surprise, one of those surprise documents, this is really a Police document which is probably in Afrikaans, you have it in Afrikaans and it's not a mysterious document, it just details the kinds of ammunition and firearms that Police should carry when they move into an operational area. One of the things that it says is that,
"During unrest situations the maximum use of teargas, rubber bullets, birdshot ammunition must firstly be made use of...."
and it adds that,
"....firm action is essential".
and I am just wondering if you are aware of that. These are standard procedures, these are really not - I don't think it's a document, what is it called - it's called COMPOL REPORT 196.
MR VERMEULEN: If you can just give me a moment.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: It was read - reference was made to the document this morning and I think you have it somewhere there. You are aware of those standard procedures and whether in fact Police are expected to act in accordance with those procedures?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes as was told to you this morning it was a document coming from Brigadier Wandrag dated 1984. At that stage I wasn't working with the South African Police and in 1984 I was in the Railway Police but I believe there would have been a similar document applicable to the Railway Police and I am sure I would have read them and I am sure, yes, that at that stage I would have been aware of these things.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: In other words you were not aware of this document and you were not aware of the procedures, all you were acting upon is Mr Loedolff's instructions?
MR VERMEULEN: No that's not what I said. This specific document or instruction, it was not possible for me to have seen this in 1984 because I was in the Railway Police at the time. If I look at the reference on this document it would have been a South African Police document. Because the two police forces cooperated very closely I think there would have been a similar document in circulation for the Railway Police, and it would have been similarly worded, but that is just an assumption that I am making today. It's just that I do believe there would have been such a document in existence.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Therefore since you were not aware of any such documents or procedures it seems to me then that you had therefore acted only upon the instruction of Mr Loedolff?
MR VERMEULEN: No, no I couldn't say that. I couldn't say that I simply acted on his instructions. As I read this document I told you that there would have been a similar document in the Railway Police, but as I read this document there is nothing here which would be any different to how a Railway Policeman would be expected to have acted in 1984, it's basically the same procedure applicable to crowd control situations, there should be maximal use of sjamboks, teargas, rubber bullets etc, I think the rubber sjambok was also prohibited after '84. I may be wrong there. And then batons and ammunition etc, etc, and then it refers to maximum arrests and sharp point ammunition.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: In other words there were standards, there were procedures even for Railway Police for crowd control?
MR VERMEULEN: That's correct, yes.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: And these are comparable to the standards that are in front of you now except for sjamboks?
MR VERMEULEN: No. I think the sjamboks were prohibited in the South African Police as well, but these are, yes, the standard procedures and comparable, yes.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Now how did Mr Loedolff's instruction to you compare with those instructions, with those standard procedures?
MR VERMEULEN: Chairperson I think my interpretation of this document and the instructions which I received from Major Loedolff I could almost say that they were - the one isn't relevant to the other one. If I as a policeman were to be given this instruction from head office it would have dealt with combatting of unrest situations and I would have filed this under crowd control, in other words where you have to act against a lot of people during a march or something like that, and I would have applied this information or procedures to people taking part in an illegal march from A to B.
So if I could explain it like this. I would have first used teargas against them after giving the necessary warnings, saying to them you have so many minutes to disperse otherwise we will act against you and if the crowd didn't react to that I would, if I am just going according to the steps here I would then have ordered a charge with sjamboks or batons and if they gathered again I would have used batons or shot ammunition. So I would have used this procedure here in a totally different situation to what we experienced this day, on this particular day.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I am sorry that I have to go back to the video. When we were looking at the video we saw a crowd of people on either side of the road, and according to your own admission you were expecting that these people would be throwing stones, now when that crowd situation, when you are controlling that crowd situation are you suggesting that you would use different measures as you would if you were to go and control a group of marchers who would equally be carrying stones and other things?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes I would explain it as follows. Say for instance the crowd of people that you saw on the video stayed in one position on the corner of St Simons Road and they had a burning obstruction in the road there, and were shouting their usual slogans and throwing stones at the Police etc, if the police vehicle had come to a stop about 20 yards away from this crowd, yes, I would have made use of this procedure.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: You would have applied that procedure?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: And in terms of what you told us you were indeed expecting a crowd with stones, you were not expecting what you found, this is what you said earlier?
MR VERMEULEN: That is correct.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: In other words, according to your expectations you were expecting a crowd where you would have used those procedures, and what I am wondering about is if then Mr Loedolff instructs you to use even more lethal ammunition how do you, as a professional policeman, allow him to send you on such an operation when you expect something less than what you found?
I mean according to your expectations you did not expect to find, as you describe it, a life threatening situation because you were not expecting such a situation, why then did you not apply the measures that are defined in your own manual, and why did you allow Mr Loedolff to push you into a situation where you had to carry live and lethal ammunition?
MR VERMEULEN: Chairperson I find it very difficult to associate myself with the phrase that "Loedolff pushed me" into a situation. If I look at paragraph 4 it reads,
"In a situation according to evaluation if use must be made of firearms...."
that is what I believed. I believed that firearms had to be used because an attack had already been launched. The vehicle was already surrounded by people, stones had already been thrown, the two people in the front were unprotected, had already been attacked, birdshot should first be used, Other ammunition, heavier ammunition should only be used when there's no other option to protect life or lives or property.
Now I said earlier today that when I was sizing up the situation in the moment before I started shooting I then believed, and I still believe today, that we had reached the point where there was no other way out, that the time had come to protect my own life, the lives of my colleagues and property. I was passed the stage of thinking that this would be a situation where teargas would be of any assistance or giving orders to disperse or anything of the kind. At that stage I realised that we had already passed that point and it was my life on the line here and that I had to protect my own life and the lives of my colleagues.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: You see Mr Vermeulen I think I may have made this point in a different context earlier, you are suggesting to us that you had an option, you are suggesting that under the circumstances you had to make a decision whether to use no.3, no.4, I mean whether to use the equipment stated under no.3, in other words less lethal weapons or to use the lethal weapons that Mr Loedolff said you should carry. This is what you are telling us. And yet you know, you stated, Mr Loedolff before you stated that all you had in the vehicle was AAA and birdshot. Now how would you, I mean how did you have a choice? You did not have the choice, you only carried the lethal weapons. In other words all that you were prepared to use was lethal machinery. It's not as if you had a moment to assess and then an option to use other kinds of equipment. You only used the firearms that were lethal. There is a contradiction again.
MR VERMEULEN: The question as to whether I had an option could be answered like this, if I had stood up from that crate on that day and there was just a normal road blockade there and had there been 10 or 15 youths or adults it doesn't matter, and if they were throwing stones at the vehicle I wouldn't even have thought of using my firearm. I can promise you we would have been off the truck as quick as a flash and we would have arrested them very, very quickly.
But in the circumstances I realised that we were being attacked, we were under heavy attack, I described it as being in a "rain of stones", stones were actually raining down on us and that's still the way I would describe it. And that is why if we have to go according to paragraphs and procedures then I realise that it was no longer a question of an option or an alternative. I had no option. I was afraid that I would die that day.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I'll say this just one last time actually and maybe we should move on. You did not have an option, you did not have an option anyway, it is not as if you had other kinds of ammunition, you went there prepared to use AAA. And let me promise you if you hoped to have arrested a group of 15 agile youths, jumping out of crates on a moving vehicle I doubt if you would have caught them. So I wonder if in fact the idea was not to use the firearm and the ammunition that you had carried without the option of using anything minimal.
Just one last question and then I will ...(intervention)
CHAIRPERSON: Dr Ramashala wants to ask a question.
DR RAMASHALA: Yes. Just a clarification Lt Vermeulen. A few minutes ago you said, and I quote, "when I was sizing up the situation before shooting", since your head did not show in the crates one should assume that you were either kneeling or squatting, am I correct? If the crates went as far as your chest, so you men were either kneeling or squatting in the crates?
MR VERMEULEN: That's correct.
DR RAMASHALA: Could you then explain how you would have been able to size up the situation before shooting, because the video shows you guys coming up and immediately shooting, so how were you able to "size up the situation before shooting"? Thank you.
MR VERMEULEN: Chairperson, I think the quote should rather be "I did" and not "we did". I can only speak on my own behalf. Yes, I could not see before. Yes I was in a crouched position in the crate and the moment I could see over the top of the crate, and the next sentence I say this with all due respect and not sarcastically, I came out of that crate with my eyes open, not with my eyes closed. If that is the edge of the crate, the moment I emerged from above that crate I could see what was happening and that was what I saw. And according to what I saw I realised that I had to react immediately or else I would die.
DR RAMASHALA: But the video shows your head emerging and immediate shooting and I don't understand how you would have had time to size up the situation.
MR VERMEULEN: I've already said that it wasn't a case of emerging from the crate and leisurely looking around, I didn't have the time to do that, I just immediately saw what was there to be seen right in front of my eyes. Yes, maybe I started shooting immediately after I had seen what I saw. Perhaps it looked to you as if it was one movement, judging from the video, but I saw and I shot, I didn't shoot and then see.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Ms Gobodo.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: This death and threat story, what evidence do we have that your lives were indeed under threat?
MR VERMEULEN: As you earlier said you already watched the video, I've tried to explain to you what the damage was. Last night one of my family members asked me, Douw please tell me how you felt when you were standing there behind that crate? I don't think the words have ever been created in English, Afrikaans or any other language to describe what I felt. If I could find the words then I could tell you how I felt but I cannot find the words, and my hope is that nobody else in this hall will ever experience what I felt and experienced on that day, because it's actually indescribable that feeling that you are facing death. That's the best I can do.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Believe it or not it is possible to understand and accept that you did feel under threat. In this country especially wherever White people came into confrontation with a Black crowd the immediate response was that of fear, death, it is just the way we were brought up. It is possible that you really did feel under threat. But the point is you were a policeman, you had responsibilities, not only for your men but also for the people around you. You are a policeman, you protect lives, tell us, I mean really when you look back did you think that that was a life threatening situation, really? I mean looking back now do you think it was a life threatening situation or do you think that your mentality forced you to perceive it as such? Can you honestly say that what happened on that day was truly a life-threatening situation? We've seen the video, we saw two holes on the windscreen of the truck, but really to call it a life-threatening situation, can you honestly say with the benefit of hindsight, the benefit of all that has happened in this country, can you honestly say that that was a life-threatening situation?
MR VERMEULEN: You noticed that I walked out when the video was being shown. I have seen the video on a number of occasions and I really don't want to see it again. I think the cameraman could have done us a greater favour or given us a better view of what had happened that day. If he was able to record what had happened there in a three dimensional way then perhaps we would have been better able to understand what happened there that day. I used strong words for what happened that day. For instance that we felt that stones were raining down on us. And I described my emotions and I am feeling quite emotional about it so it's difficult for me to talk about it.
But I must repeat that on that day I felt that my personnel and I were in danger of our lives and I am trying to get it across to you how that felt. I believed that I was going to die there along with my colleagues. I am not the kind of man who would just jump out and start shooting children because I have a mentality problem. I also have children, I mentioned that earlier.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: When I say "mentality" I am really referring to what was going on in your mind. You have already described that you were afraid and as I said I believe it is possible that you were afraid because you are a White man, you are a policeman, you are faced with a Black crowd and the mentality in the country is that whenever these kind of situations happened you must run for your life. I mean it was a culture of enemy of us and them, enemy being anybody who is Black is the enemy. I mean in most cases, especially when people are involved in such a situation they are perceived as the enemy. It's the kind of perception that was drilled in the minds of South Africans. I mean part of the reason we are going through this process is to understand how all these things were possible. Why did they happen. And part of the answer lies in what goes on in the minds of the people who are involved in this thing.
So when I ask you the question when you look back, yes you were afraid, yes you felt you were under threat, but when you looked back would you honestly say that your lives were indeed under threat, that you could have died? For example, you were in the boxes why didn't you just simply radio to the guy that just drive on. You had been on the road, you went back up and down the road, you came back, you were in boxes, you hear the first stone, you saw the first stone and the second stone and the firing begins, now how do you explain that to us?
And all I am asking is do you, when you look back, I really don't want us to belabour the point, but I just want you to respond if you can, when you look back now do you really think that your lives were indeed in danger considering the fact that you have children yourself, those were children throwing stones, there was nothing else, you did not hear any shooting going on and you started firing, but was it really a situation that was life-threatening?
MR VERMEULEN: If you would allow me Chairperson I would like to say something about what you have just said relating to whether it was a life-threatening situation. You have used the term that it was a question of Black people and White people. Fortunately I grew up in a home where the only distinction made in our home was how a person reacted or what a person's conduct was, and it was only on the basis of a person's conduct that he or she was labelled or classified. I also used the phrase "so-called Coloured or Black friends", these are people who come and visit me, who stay over, who had meals with me, we look after each other's children etc. I fortunately didn't have that problem that these were White or Black or Brown people.
If I was a policeman in the same area and this had happened right in front of my house then I would have launched the same attack in my own road even if I had shot my own wife and child in the process. At that stage I saw it as a crime, as a personal attack against me and my people, and yes, what I experienced that day and what is so difficult to try and describe to you, I experienced as a life-threatening situation. And according to my perception that day I thought I was going to die there and then that day.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I am just trying to figure out in my head what kind of person you are who could shoot your own child and wife. Nevertheless when you fired the shots and you fired at certain people whom you claim had been throwing stones, the consequence of that in court evidence that was led you identified, or one of the people you shot was identified as Shaun Magmoed, now can you tell us if you indeed did see Shaun Magmoed throw a stone at your truck?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes I did.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: So when you jumped out of the car you directly shot at Shaun Magmoed because he was throwing a stone?
MR VERMEULEN: Shaun Magmoed was one of many who I can recall were present on that open space between the pavement and the house. I tried to explain to you on a previous occasion why I remembered Shaun Magmoed, I don't actually know, all I can recall is that I saw him throwing stones and how I connect that person with the name Shaun Magmoed is that I saw a person wearing a greenish shirt.
Afterwards I saw a person being carried out of one of the homes and I learnt later that that person was Shaun Magmoed. I also said that I think it was the same person. Yes, I shot in his direction. I don't know whether I ever hit him. I can't recall whether or after any of the seven shots that I fired he showed any indication that one of those shots had hit him. I have enough guts to say that I shot in his direction but I don't know whether I hit him. But I do recall that a person wearing a green shirt was carried out of one of the homes and that he died. I don't know why I remember him, he was one of many but for some reason he stood out from the crowd. Maybe that answers your question.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Your description of where Shaun Magmoed was contradicts the one that you had given yesterday. I am not saying that you are wrong, but I am just making the point that when we were told yesterday by some of the people who came to give testimony they informed us differently, that Shaun was coming out of the house, he wasn't in the crowd and he ran back because he was hit by the bullets. Now I am not suggesting that yours is incorrect, I am merely putting it to you.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: My last question from you, the statement you gave in court would you stand by it?
MR VERMEULEN: Which court, I testified at the inquest as well as at the criminal case, the Surja case.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: This is the one that is marked Annexure 9. It is dated the 19th of October 1985, it must be the statement that you made, I am sorry, it must be the statement you made after the incident. I just want to know if this is the statement you stand by what you said in this statement? 19 October 1985.
MR VERMEULEN: Please just give me a moment, I would have to look at it.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: It's the statements that you gave recounting the events and your role in them after the incident. I guess what I want to know is, did you write this statement?
MR VERMEULEN: You are referring to this typed version?
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: The date at the bottom is the 19th of October 1985.
MR VERMEULEN: Yes it is a statement which I signed.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Is that your statement, did you write that statement? It has your signature but I want to know did you write it?
MR VERMEULEN: That is correct, yes, I stand to be corrected but the person who drafted this statement is a Sgt Steyn who was attached to the Investigation Unit. He had a couple of unique characteristics. For instance he had an old Olivetti typewriter on which he typed his statements and he typed as we spoke. I am not sure whether we first wrote it down and he then retyped it or what happened, I don't know whether he perhaps re-interpreted it as he typed it, but if the question is whether I wrote it myself, no, I didn't type it myself but it is the statement which I believe I made and which I signed.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: You are saying very many interesting things. One is that the person who wrote the statement had peculiar qualities, or unique qualities and secondly that in fact you may not be responsible for some of the things that appear on these statements, I mean you imply that. I mean if you say he may have re-interpreted some of the things you said, but your signature is on the statement, at least this what the interpretation ...(intervention)
ADV VAN ZYL: Chairperson I think the witness was trying to answer and he was interrupted, if he can just be allowed to complete his reply.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: Mr van Zyl yes I will but really what I think is sometimes when I rephrase the question it makes it easier rather than allow him to answer and spend time on answering when in fact he didn't understand the question. I felt that he didn't understand the question so I had to repeat it. So can I just repeat the question.
The point is you say that the person, the Steyn person who typed the statements might have re-interpreted it but your signature is on it, so what you are suggesting is that you may not be responsible for some of the things that appear on this statement, is that right, of what you are implying?
MR VERMEULEN: No. Let me qualify my answer. Yes it is my signature at the bottom. Two, I can't remember whether we wrote it down for the Sergeant and he then typed it over in exactly the same words and he then signed it, or whether we spoke to him and he then, on the basis of what we said, typed up the statement. That is why on previous occasions when I was asked about some of these paragraphs that is how I tried to explain the intention behind the statement.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I don't have any questions.
CHAIRPERSON: Do any other members of the panel have questions they want to ask? Ms Wildschut.
MISS WILDSCHUT: Mr Vermeulen can we just try and round up the questions around the signature of the statement, what does putting your signature to this document mean for you, the fact that you signed it, what were you signing?
MR VERMEULEN: Normally when you sign any document then you are thereby saying that that is how it happened.
MISS WILDSCHUT: So your signature on this document means that you agree that the contents of this document, that you are satisfied with the contents of this document, that you are not going to disagree with any aspect of the content of this document?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes.
MISS WILDSCHUT: So every aspect of the document, as far as your knowledge goes, is true and correct and that is why you signed the document?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes, that is what I wanted to say and that is what I signed.
MISS WILDSCHUT: I am asking the question because there seemed to have been a bit of a misunderstanding, in my mind certainly, that you were trying to clarify that there might have been a lapse of the veracity of the content between yourself and the person who typed it, is that so?
Is that why you were trying to explain that this particular person Mr Steyn had this Olivetti and he typed it and you were not sure and so on, I am just trying to understand why you gave us that explanation?
MR VERMEULEN: Because I have already been asked previously about certain phrases or sentences in my statement. I was asked what I meant by a particular sentence, so when I signed the statement on the 19th of October in 1985 my intention was to say the following and the following was actually typed and I signed it. I was asked what did you mean in paragraph whatever, that is why I qualified what I said by saying that there could be a possibility that what I said in words were slightly re-arranged in the typing process. I want to try and really cut short the procedure and that is why I am trying to assist the Commission, that's why I mentioned it right at the outset.
MISS WILDSCHUT: So can we restate that you - the signature on the document implies that you agree with the contents of this document, can we restate that?
MR VERMEULEN: Correct.
MISS WILDSCHUT: Thank you.
MR VERMEULEN: Mr Ntsebeza.
MR NTSEBEZA: Just a few questions Mr Vermeulen. Now do you know how many times you shot at the person you think was Shaun Magmoed?
MR VERMEULEN: I've already said that I fired seven shots and the seven shots were fired in the direction of Shaun Magmoed. I am not saying it was fired at him, I am saying in the direction of where he was.
MR NTSEBEZA: Ja I am taking it on the basis that you are giving it. You have concluded on your own, on the basis of that construction that it is conceivable that the person who later died and who had a green shirt was Shaun Magmoed, and it is conceivable that it was you who killed him. Now I am taking it on your own construction and on that basis, how many times did you shoot at that person, in the direction of that person? Seven times, as you said, I remember that you said that you shot seven times?
MR VERMEULEN: I fired seven shots in the direction of where Shaun Magmoed was. I don't know whether I hit him with any of those shots. I got no indication from his bodily movements whether I had actually hit him or not.
MR NTSEBEZA: When you came to know that the person answering the description in terms of clothes of a person whose direction you had fired your shots had died, did you establish the cause of death of Shaun Magmoed?
MR VERMEULEN: No I didn't.
MR NTSEBEZA: Did you not care to establish the cause of his death?
MR VERMEULEN: Could you repeat the question please?
MR NTSEBEZA: Did it not matter to you how that person had died? You have just told us that the person in whose direction you had shot and who had died was a person who you could have killed, did it not matter to you to know how he had died?
MR VERMEULEN: Three people died on the scene. When Shaun Magmoed was carried out of the house I was still on the truck. I didn't get down from the truck for whatever reasons and I think that at that stage we were giving feedback about this incident. What I did do was to stay behind at Athlone Police Station to answer any queries from family or friends. But no I didn't ascertain what he died of.
MR NTSEBEZA: Are you saying to date a person who you believe, as you stand there, as you sit there, you might have been responsible for killing, you didn't care to establish how he died, is that what you are saying or am I missing something?
MR VERMEULEN: No that's not what I am saying.
MR NTSEBEZA: What are you saying? Do you know how Shaun Magmoed died?
MR VERMEULEN: The people taken away in ambulances from the house had bullet wounds. At that stage I didn't make enquiries as to what had happened to each one of them for whatever reasons. The notary went around to the people and he wrote down particulars and in my particulars he fed through this information. So at that stage I would have known that the person had suffered bullet wounds but I didn't physically get down from the truck and go to the ambulance because I was staying behind on the vehicle also to protect it.
MR NTSEBEZA: I understood that but what I am asking you have you ever found out at any day after that how this person you could have been responsible for his death, died?
MR VERMEULEN: Not as far as I can recall.
MR NTSEBEZA: Did you know that he was 16 years of age?
MR VERMEULEN: I heard that afterwards, yes. I thought he was about 22 years old.
MR NTSEBEZA: But did you hear that he was 16?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes I heard that afterwards.
MR NTSEBEZA: And still you didn't bother to go and find out in what way he had died, just as a matter of fact, I am not accusing you of anything, I am just asking. You didn't go and find out how this 16 year-old person, you could have been responsible for his death had died?
MR VERMEULEN: No I didn't. It happened 12 years ago and I am assuming that I just came to the conclusion that he died of his bullet wounds or whatever. I just heard that he had died but I can't recall whether I had any more specific information.
MR NTSEBEZA: Did you establish from any inquest records, if there were any, how he had died, whether those inquest records were by way of tape or by way of photographs or by way of doctors' reports? I want to take the view that you would like us to take home with that this is a matter that has troubled you over the last while and I would like to believe you, and I would like to therefore, which is why I am asking these questions, have you established from any inquest records which would have been at your disposal as a police person, what sort of bullet wounds occasioned the death of Shaun Magmoed?
MR VERMEULEN: You are mentioning doctors' certificates and reports and so forth, I didn't check up on any of those. I did testify at the inquest and I think that took place about 10 or 11 years ago. I know that there was a lot of debate on the various kinds of wounds and the interpretations to be attached to those different kinds of wounds, but if you ask me today I can do no more than to say, yes, I know that he died of bullet wounds. I can't tell you how many or type or anything like that.
MR NTSEBEZA: Didn't you want to know what sort of wounds had occasioned his death? Did you not enquire because you didn't want to know?
MR VERMEULEN: No, I don't know why I didn't ask. Perhaps because you heard about these things in case after case after case through the whole legal procedure of trial upon trial and Appellate Division case.
MR NTSEBEZA: Would it be because part of the debate was around the question of suggestions from his wounds that he was shot at the back?
MR VERMEULEN: No, no I never shot at him or in his direction whilst his back was turned to me.
MR NTSEBEZA: I'm not asking that. I am asking whether your reason that you have never wanted to find out what the inquest records are saying about his death is because, as you say, there was a lot of debate about the manner in which the wounds were occasioned and part of the debate was a suggestion that some of the wounds were inflicted on his back?
MR VERMEULEN: No that is not the case.
MR NTSEBEZA: Do you know in fact if there was a suggestion that some of his wounds were predominantly posteriorly?
MR VERMEULEN: I am not sure but I think in one of the cases mention was made of that fact and - or I think what was said was that there were bullet wounds on the back of his body, on the right-hand side of the back of his body, but I stand to be corrected.
MR NTSEBEZA: Yes, let's take those, how would those have come to be there, at the back of his body? They certainly wouldn't have come from bullets inflicted from the front would they?
MR VERMEULEN: I can't answer that. What I can recall is that when I shot in his direction he was looking at me. I am also not the only person who shot in the right-hand direction. I think somebody just now said that his positional placing was different to what I mentioned today. Perhaps one of the other members who was present there and who also were on the right-hand side of the truck could perhaps throw more light on this. But I know that I never shot at him whilst his back was turned to me.
MR NTSEBEZA: How do you know that?
MR VERMEULEN: That is from what I can remember of that day. From what I can recall of that day I simply can't get a picture of him with his back towards me. After I had fired my seven shots the people started dispersing, they stopped throwing stones.
MR NTSEBEZA: Are you saying, were you firing your shots in rapid succession?
MR VERMEULEN: I think I was the first person who stopped shooting.
MR NTSEBEZA: Seven shots in rapid succession, didn't your evidence suggest that you stopped only because you had emptied your revolver or whatever, your firearm?
MR VERMEULEN: Perhaps I reloaded.
MR NTSEBEZA: I see. Anyway let's do something else. You seem to suggest in your statement that before you left Manenberg Police Station, in fact I think you were much more clear and positive than your commander as to state the state of affairs at that stage, do you confirm that you were aware, even as you left Manenberg that there were flash-points of unrest in Athlone, namely Thornton Road and Belgravia Road, is that your evidence? The focal points of the trouble.
MR VERMEULEN: Yes I could describe it as such, as I testified.
MR NTSEBEZA: You would say that, I am talking about you now, when the order was being given by the previous witness that your route must go into those two roads, you knew immediately that you were being sent into an area which was the flash-point of the unrest, is that correct?
MR VERMEULEN: Let me answer the question like this. Various roads were mentioned, Old Klipfontein, Thornton, Belgravia, Lansdowne, Old Crossroads, if you look at it from the top you will see that it covers a vast area if I remember correctly.
No I didn't immediately realise that Thornton or Belgravia Road - earlier that day I was working in another area, I think it was in Guguletu where I had been working and the closest contact which I could have had with the areas where the incidents took place was by means of radio contact and if you had to ask me today I would say, yes, if we are talking about the Western Cape the flash-point areas were those.
MR NTSEBEZA: You know I am not speculating I am just confirming your statement. Your commander did indicate that your route was going to take you to Klipfontein Road, what-have-you and then back to Manenberg after you have even gone to Crossroads or - but your evidence under oath, in paragraph 4 singles out these two streets as being the flash-points, do you agree with that? Do you agree that your evidence in paragraph 4 singles out, you do go on to explain the route in paragraph 5, but you single out these two streets as being the flash-points of unrest, do you agree with that?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes, those two roads are singled out as some of the flash-points.
MR NTSEBEZA: No, no, you don't say they were some of the flash-points, you say they were the flash-points, is that right?
MR VERMEULEN: As I read it the flash-points were in Thornton Road and in Belgravia Road, Athlone ...(intervention)
MR NTSEBEZA: Yes.
MR VERMEULEN: But that doesn't mean these were the only flash-points. These two were flash-points.
MR NTSEBEZA: And in particular in those two places, it is places where vehicles were being stoned, is that correct?
MR VERMEULEN: That is correct, yes.
MR NTSEBEZA: It is a place where there were burning objects were placed in the roads, is that right?
MR VERMEULEN: I did not hear the interpretation
MR NTSEBEZA: It was a place where burning objects were placed in the roads, is that correct? It's what you say here. I am just trying to verify your evidence, that in those streets that is where those things were taking place ...(intervention)
MR VERMEULEN: I did not hear the question, I only heard is that correct.
CHAIRPERSON: I think we need to explain that our Interpreters are struggling, partly at the end of a very long day, to catch up with everything that is being said. So perhaps Mr Ntsebeza if you would read again from the statement.
MR NTSEBEZA: Do you confirm that it is your evidence that those two streets, well known by you to be places where in Afrikaans - "burning objects were placed in the road......"
MR VERMEULEN: That is correct, yes.
MR NTSEBEZA: And is it your evidence that in fact this sort of unrest had taken place for a few days already, that form of unrest in these particular two streets?
MR VERMEULEN: I will concede and say a couple of days, actually it was longer than just a couple of days.
MR NTSEBEZA: What I am trying to get at is that when you were sent out by Major Loedolff, as he was then, in your mind when once he mentioned those two streets as one of the areas you have to traverse in your route, you must have realised that you are going, in terms of your own experience, into a danger zone, am I correct?
MR VERMEULEN: Chairperson I want to make something clear. Those two streets weren't singled out. They formed part of a route, the two roads formed part of a route, five street names were mentioned, so it wasn't as if these two roads were singled out. Yes, I realised that we were entering an unrest area.
MR NTSEBEZA: No, I am going to insist that you have singled them out, you, not Loedolff, in your own sworn statement you have singled out the two places. And all I am asking is, in view of your own testimony is it an indication that as soon as they were mentioned, in your mind, you realised that if that is one of the areas we are going to go into, we are going to go into an area, a danger zone?
MR VERMEULEN: These roads were just as dangerous as Old Klipfontein or Old Crossroads would have been.
MR NTSEBEZA: I see, but you don't find it necessary to mention the other streets as "brand punte van die ......", is that right?
MR VERMEULEN: Although I didn't mention them I never excluded them as non-flash-points. I never said that they were less important in the route, and the fact that these two were included in my statement I made on Monday that does not mean that it must be singled out now from the rest of the area. They were just as important as any of the other roads or areas.
MR NTSEBEZA: I would have expected that you would have said so, but it is your statement, it is not my statement Mr Vermeulen. Anyway - now in view of the fact that it is quite clear that you were going into a danger zone, may I ask did you have, as part of your equipment, loud hailers in your vehicle in terms of which you could have warned those who were attacking you, that what appears to be an ordinary Railway truck is in fact a Trojan Horse, a Police van with armed people in it, did you have a loud hailer?
MR VERMEULEN: No I didn't have a loud hailer.
MR NTSEBEZA: And no policemen in that truck had a loud-hailer?
MR VERMEULEN: Not as far as I know.
MR NTSEBEZA: Do I gather from that that it was not your intention to warn anyone who might attack you that they shouldn't do that because it's an unlawful act and that they were going to be arrested if they did so?
MR VERMEULEN: You are correct. Were you saying that our purpose was not to warn people, our purpose was to arrest people.
MR NTSEBEZA: Yes. I understood that part of an arrest process, especially when people are committing a crime is to warn them, do you disagree? Do you disagree that when you are a policeman you are charged with the duty of preventing a crime from happening rather than allowing a crime to happen so that you can effect an arrest or am I living in a dream world?
MR VERMEULEN: No I don't think you are living in a dream world but I think the type of crime we are referring to here would be crimes which had already been committed so there was no way of preventing it by warning people and saying to them look, you've already committed a crime. I would have had to arrest them for crimes already committed and for that I didn't need a loud hailer.
MR NTSEBEZA: Ja no I understand that but this particular crime you provoked by the manner in which, I am not criticising that, but you went there intending to provoke an attack on the truck but I am not dealing with that. We are at a situation where people are committing a crime, they are throwing stones at you, now wouldn't it have been proper for you at that stage to have warned the people not to do so?
MR VERMEULEN: ......such as for instance warning people and so forth were often performed on many occasions before this afternoon and this method was decided upon because the other methods weren't successful.
MR NTSEBEZA: I see, that's why you didn't bring a loud-hailer for instance, is that the reason?
MR VERMEULEN: Correct.
MR NTSEBEZA: So that you shouldn't warn people and you should rather shoot at them, is that it?
MR VERMEULEN: I didn't shoot at the people to arrest them, I shot at them because we were being attacked.
MR NTSEBEZA: Okay let's test that, did you fire any warning shots? Did you fire in the air for instance in the hope that people, however brave they are, and once they realise that firearms are involved, they would run away, or has it not been your experience that people will come even if you fire shots, did you fire in the air for instance?
MR VERMEULEN: I said I fired seven shots whilst people were throwing stones and for the entire duration of the seven shots people were throwing stones. I didn't fire any warning shots into the air.
MR NTSEBEZA: Did any of your colleagues fire any warning shots?
MR VERMEULEN: Not as far as I know.
MR NTSEBEZA: Could they have fired warning shots? Well let me ask the question, could you have fired warning shots? It appears that you were using rifles from what I saw, I don't know, I'm not experienced in firearms, whatever it is could your people have fired any warning shots?
MR VERMEULEN: At that stage I felt that we were already under attack, I wanted to avert the attack and I saw no purpose in firing warning shots at that time, I wanted to avert the attack so that I could then proceed to make arrests.
MR NTSEBEZA: In other words rather than fire warning shots you decided that you should shoot even if the result was that you would kill somebody, is that what you are saying?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes I shot at those people who were attacking us and we were undefended and unprotected.
MR NTSEBEZA: You were undefended, unprotected. Where they having any firearms except that they were throwing stones? Were they armed in any way the people you were shooting at?
MR VERMEULEN: I didn't see any firearms. I didn't say they were unarmed, I said we were unprotected.
MR NTSEBEZA: With AAA ...(intervention)
MR VERMEULEN: Yes I was armed.
MR NTSEBEZA: Yes.
MR VERMEULEN: We didn't use heavier calibers, AAA and birdshot, that's what we used.
MR NTSEBEZA: Okay. Now did you not have rubber bullets?
MR VERMEULEN: Not as far as I can recall.
MR NTSEBEZA: If you had had rubber bullets would they not have been as effective in terms of crowd control?
MR VERMEULEN: To me it wasn't a matter of crowd control, to me it was an attack that had to be averted.
MR NTSEBEZA: Yes, now I am trying to picture the planning of people who wanted to effect an arrest and if an arrest couldn't be effected to defend themselves in such a way that harm doesn't happen to them but they shouldn't inflict death, I am asking your opinion as a lieutenant at the time, couldn't rubber bullets have been the thing to have used on the day? I am asking you Mr Vermeulen as a person who was troubled by this event and who now reflects on it on what could have been done. It's not my function to prosecute you because that's not the function of the Commission. I want you to reflect. Do you still think that if you had been given rubber bullets you would not have escaped with your live?
MR VERMEULEN: If you want my personal opinion as I sit here today, in other words if you are not asking the opinion of the person in that situation at that time, if you ask me today, Douw would you have shot rubber bullets, no I wouldn't have done that. It's a single object about as long as this little microphone or if I give you a one and a half torchlight battery, if you use that at close range where you can actually aim at a person, I wouldn't have done that, not today and not then.
MR NTSEBEZA: If you look back on things would you not have felt the better way to handle that situation was to use teargas and then try and follow the people and arrest them?
MR VERMEULEN: I averted an attack which had already commenced. Teargas would not have helped me in any way in that situation.
MR NTSEBEZA: Thank you.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you. Are there no further questions? Miss Wildschut.
MISS WILDSCHUT: Lt Vermeulen you and I were talking about the statement you made which you agreed about the contents. I believe you have it before you, the statement that you signed in Bellville, can we just have a look at that statement.
MR VERMEULEN: Yes I am looking at it.
MISS WILDSCHUT: Yes and then if could go down the page, probably the second last paragraph, it states,
"On the right side of the truck, that is the side of the truck where I was an adult Coloured man who had been throwing stones at the vehicle ran away in the direction of a house and he was fired at. I do know that some of my members found this person dead, this person who had run away and was found in the house".
Do you agree that you were "firing on a Coloured man who was running away"?
MR VERMEULEN: I've already said, and that is why I mentioned it just now when the statement was referred to, that the placing of the words in the sentence, it should have read, "stones being thrown, he was fired at and he ran away". That is how it should have read. I can't explain today why it is written as it is written there. Yes, I signed the statement as it stands there but that is not what I meant that day when I made the statement to Sgt Steyn.
MISS WILDSCHUT: Madam Chair, we've been through this before. You will remember before Mr Ntsebeza questioned Mr Vermeulen, we agreed that he will stand by the contents that are in this statement. I would really not like us to go through that again because it is on record, he agreed that he put his signature to this statement and that he agrees with the content. I am merely reading what is written here. Can I please ask the question again, do you ...(intervention)
ADV VAN ZYL: Madam Chair may I just understand, is that supposed to mean that the witness is not allowed to explain himself?
CHAIRPERSON: My understanding is Miss Wildschut is following up with a question arising out of what she has read, is that correct?
MISS WILDSCHUT: Madam Chair the question is quite simple. I read what Mr Vermeulen had given a statement under oath which he agrees about the contents, I am asking whether he agrees that a man who was running away was fired at.
MR VERMEULEN: That is why I told you, well let me be quite blunt. The wording as it appears there is incorrect and that is not what I had meant to say that day although I signed the statement. I had nothing to measure the statement against on the day of the 19th of October, I don't even know whether I was in a hurry on that day, I can't even remember when and where and in what circumstances the statement was taken down. That is why I qualified myself by saying that it should read, "stones were thrown, he was fired at and he ran away", that is the correct order, and that is why I qualified it.
MISS WILDSCHUT: Maybe we should seek qualification for another paragraph which is on the second page Mr Vermeulen, it's the paragraph before you put in the statement that you are conversant with the content of this document and I will read it in Afrikaans. It says,
"I am aware of the contents of this statement and I am aware I have no objections to the taking of the prescribed oath and I consider the prescribed oath as binding on my conscience".
Now just before that paragraph it is written,
"We only fired at those people who were throwing stones at the truck and therefore the people who were killed were definitely people who had taken part in the stone-throwing".
Are you standing by that statement?
MR VERMEULEN: Yes, the answer is no. This statement was made by myself on the basis of what I accepted. The other two people on the left side of the vehicle, they experienced and observed other things, things which I was not aware of. My statement reads,
"We only fired at people who were engaging in stone-throwing".
I only fired at people throwing stones at the vehicle and therefore the people who were killed were definitely people who had taken part in stone-throwing. On the right side of the vehicle I know that it was only Shaun Magmoed who was killed on that side and I did mention earlier that I had seen him throwing stones. If you want to include those other two people then I must qualify that paragraph and say that I can't testify about Miranda and Claasen, I did not see them throwing stones and if the word "persons" is then the wrong word in the context of that paragraph then I would like to qualify that. I can only say what I saw happening on the right side of the vehicle.
MISS WILDSCHUT: Please Mr Vermeulen we really need to understand this. How are we to understand sections of this document that are not what you said or what you said and other sections are what you stand by. Just help us now. Are we to accept that the entire document, you stand by it, and that is what we have to accept in this thing? Because you see the wounds that the person that died, Shaun Magmoed had, are wounds that are on his back, suggesting to anyone who was in the audience that the person must have been running away. And it is consistent with this paragraph. You are saying here that he was running away and the wounds are on his back.
Do you agree that the person, the question is, do you agree that the person who was shot at was running away?
MR VERMEULEN: I did not shoot at a person who was running away. If this paragraph is interpreted in that way that is not what I meant and I have already said so. I have already told you what I meant to say, that is the statement I made but that is not what I meant to say on that day and I've told you how it should read. Could you please accept that.
MISS WILDSCHUT: So we must waive this statement?
MR VERMEULEN: I didn't ask you to waive this statement. I said that that was my statement or is my statement and that was my mindset when I made the statement and please don't interpret it as sarcasm on my part, I can help you today and try and be honest today but I am not saying that this statement means absolutely nothing, that we should just abandon it.
MISS WILDSCHUT: Madam Chair I really don't want to belabour this point, but I'm really struggling with myself. Here is somebody who has wounds in his back, here is somebody who has died as a result of shooting, here is a police officer a professional person who gives a statement and he says that the person was running away, how do I put these two together?
How is the Commission expected to make reasonable findings and interpretations when we have such bizarre connections and such bizarre facts before us, how are we meant to understand this.
Please Mr Vermeulen let's be straight with each other. Here is somebody who has got wounds in the back and you heard from the inquest records that the person had wounds in his back and now you are telling us here that we must not refer to this document because you have some other interpretation on this document.
MR VERMEULEN: Miss Wildschut and Chairperson perhaps the next example which I could give you might show you how honest I am trying to be. May I refer you to paragraph 2 and would you please allow me to then ask a question. If this statement of mine was so flawless that we could just accept it in total, why would I have admitted that a ninth person should be added to the list?
Why would I then have said that Frank van Niekerk's name should be inserted because he was also present on the truck? I noticed that there was a mistake, I noticed Frank van Niekerk's name was missing and I think that if I was able to add Frank van Niekerk's name then I also have the right to say Madam Chair what I meant in paragraph 5 or 6 was this or that. If Frank van Niekerk can be accepted as another occupant of the vehicle then surely you can accept my explanation to try and give this Commission as much information as possible.
CHAIRPERSON: Thank you Mr Vermeulen. Miss Gobodo-Madikizela.
MS GOBODO-MADIKIZELA: I am sorry Madam Chair, just one question. Mr Vermeulen can you honestly say under oath that the only motivation for adding van Niekerk's name is that you noticed that it's not there, can you really say under oath that this is why you are adding his name, that you noticed his name does not appear there? Is this out of your own volition that you are mentioning van Niekerk's name? Can you say that under oath please.
MR VERMEULEN: Yes, Frank's name should appear there because Frank was present on the truck that day, and it is important that his name appears there.
CHAIRPERSON: Mr Vermeulen thank you, we can now release you from a long afternoon of testimony. Clearly we have to simply accept that we have the sworn statement and that there are qualifications that you wish to make to it. That must now just be in the record as you have stated it.
We thank you and Advocate van Zyl and Mr Brand.
I would like to put to you that we really would like to proceed a little further this afternoon. I know it's very late but we don't want to have to bring everybody back again. Some of you I am afraid we will probably have to agree on.
We would like to ask Mr Pienaar to testify to us now and if we possibly can we would like also to hear testimony from Mr Frank van Niekerk, but it will depend on how the time goes this afternoon.
I would also like to suggest that as you leave the table other people may have a chance to stand up for a moment or two and stretch and allow our poor Interpreters to catch their breath for a moment.
Thank you for your testimony.