Rustenburg - Public order policing unit members always carry lethal side weapons during crowd control operations, the Farlam commission heard in Rustenburg on Monday.
They were doing so as a pre-cautionary measure to protect themselves, said police training co-ordinator Brigadier Petrus Breytenbach.
The first option for officers dispatched for crowd control purposes was to use “non-lethal force”, such as rubber bullets and water cannons.
Members of the unit were a specialised division which was specifically trained to focus on handling crowds.
Other units, such as the national intervention unit, special task force and the tactical response team - which were dispatched to the troubled Marikana region on August 16 - were not specifically trained in handling volatile crowds.
Breytenbach was testifying in public hearings held by the commission in Rustenburg as part of its inquiry into a shooting that left 34 striking miners dead when police tried to disperse them in Marikana, North West, on August 16.
Karel Tip, for the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), sought answers from Breytenbach on the police curriculum relating to weapons used to deal with protesters.
Breytenbach said police officers were dispatched to protests with shotguns which fired rubber bullets.
“Members of public order policing carry non-lethal weapons. The officers will be carrying their side-arms for their personal protection. All police officers carry their side-arms,” said Breytenbach.
He said the use of “sharp end” (lethal) weapons was a last resort for police officers in a bid to save their own lives.
Last week, Breytenbach gave a presentation on the training provided to various police divisions deployed to Marikana.
He outlined what each division was trained in, according to their mandates.
Asked to consider police conduct in light of the training the units received, Breytenbach told the commission that he would not speculate.
He was not part of the police operations from August 9 to 16, which culminated in the deaths of 34 striking miners.
Breytenbach said he had not attended a nine-day police meeting after the shootings, held in Potchefstroom, which sought to analyse police conduct at Marikana.
Security at the venue of the hearings, the civic centre, was heightened on Monday, with increased police visibility.
This was prompted by a security breach on Friday when a woman tried to carry a gun into the hearings, causing the venue to be evacuated.
The firearm was spotted with the use of security scanning equipment.
The auditorium was declared safe again after a police sweep.