A police officer fires shots to disperse miners at Lonmin's Marikana operation. File photo: Reuters

Rustenburg -

A firearms expert of the SA Police Service on Monday gave evidence to the Farlam commission on the type of firearms issued to officers and their effect.

Warrant Officer Albert Wessels was cross-examined by Advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza, who represents the families of mineworkers killed on August 16 at Lonmin’s Marikana mine.

Since his initial day on the witness stand on Friday, Wessels has maintained that he was not part of the operation at Marikana and was also not part of the police’s probe in the aftermath of the shooting.

He said he was on leave at the time.

Wessels was questioned about SAPS firearms in general terms.

“If you are aware of the seven people (would-be robbers) that were killed by the police over the weekend. The police must have proceeded on the basis that they were dealing with people who were equally armed as themselves?” Ntsebeza asked.

Wessels agreed.

“In the SAPS, the R5 rifles are issued to all officers for day-to-day use in situations where a certain amount of force may be required.”

Ntsebeza said: “I am not pursuing you in regards to what happened at Marikana but you can agree with me that when you bring R5 rifles you are likely to incur fatalities because those firearms are intended to kill.”

Wessels concurred, prompting the lawyer to say: “These are weapons issued to members of an infantry, they are weapons of war. I am not going to say weapons of mass destruction.”

Ntsebeza said by using R5 rifles in any intervention, the security forces or law enforcement agents would anticipate to kill the targets.

“These are weapons you bring with the intention of killing the target. With the R1, R4 and R5s the intention there is to kill.”

Wessels responded: “It would be difficult for me to say but, yes, these firearms have capability to kill. They are used to protect the lives of the citizens being defended by the security forces.”

Members of specialised police units, wielding rifles, intervened at Marikana to quell the violent protests at the mine.

Earlier, Wessels told the inquiry that for a person to die as a result of being shot, the actual part of the body hit was more critical than the distance of the shooter.

On Friday, Wessels said the R5 rifle had the capability to discharge around 600 bullets a minute, he said.

He also sought to dispel the notion of “non-lethal” ammunition.

All ammunition could kill though some bullets were more lethal than others, he said.

The three-member commission, led by retired judge Ian Farlam, is holding public hearings as part of a probe into the killing of 44 people during wage-related violence at Marikana, North West.

Thirty-four striking miners were shot dead on August 16 and 78

wounded when police tried to disperse the protesters, who had gathered on a hill near the mine.

In the preceding week, 10 people, including two police officers and two security guards, were hacked to death near Lonmin's platinum mine.

The commission was announced by President Jacob Zuma in August. The other commissioners are senior advocates Bantubonke Tokota and Pingla Hemraj. Its mandate is to probe the mine violence and the resultant killing of the 44.

Zuma said the commission would complete its work within four months, and had to submit its final report a month later. - Sapa