21/10/09. Pepper Spray. Picture: Phill Magakoe

Johannesburg - The day before the Marikana shootings, the police authorised the purchase of nearly 90 000 cans of non-lethal pepper spray.

Now, less than three weeks after the shootings, the police are buying not only the pepper spray, but also riot shields and basic legal textbooks.

The August 16 shootings, when police shot dead 34 striking mineworkers, highlighted the need for non-lethal options for controlling and dispersing armed and angry crowds.

Now the SAPS is buying some key crowd-control basics.

The pepper spray specifications were revised in April this year and signed off by a brigadier on August 15, the day before the Marikana shootings, during the tense days of the stand-off between miners and police.

“The pepper spray must be “non-flammable, ozone friendly and of food grade”, state the specifications. “No permanent harm shall be caused by the contents under normal use.”

Each canister will hold 100ml and must work at temperatures from -10°C up to 50°C. It must be able to “maintain a direct stream of mixture with a proper spray stream width to target a single person’s face over a minimum range of three metres”.

Each canister will have a 4x4cm SAPS logo on it.

The specifications for the riot shields were approved in March last year. They are meant to protect the police “against objects thrown at them”, the specifications state. The shields must be light, but “robust and able to withstand rough handling”.

Protesters at marches will soon see police protected by the transparent polycarbonate shields, about a metre high and 60cm wide, with POLICE written across them in 10cm-high, blue capitals. The shields will come in black bags sewn to exact specifications.

The legal textbook is written by Cerita Joubert, and the SAPS wants about 2 500 copies over three years. These are for the police academies in Pretoria, Cape Town, Oudtshoorn and Bhisho as the prescribed book for the basic police development course.

The book’s section on arrests and the principle of minimum force states that police members may use force in these situations: while “performing an official duty; on condition that the member is lawfully authorised to use force; and provided that such a member uses only the minimum amount of force that is reasonably required in the circumstances”.

At Marikana, police used lethal weapons - contrary to standing orders on dealing with crowds, which emphasise the need for negotiations, forbid the use of guns and sharp ammunition, and allow rubber bullets only in “extreme circumstances”. Common-law principles of self-defence are not affected by those orders.

Police have declined to comment on anything related to Marikana.

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The Star