Koketso Moeti
Koketso Moeti

Time to say goodbye to police’s R5 assault rifles

A bold campaign has been launched by Gun Free South Africa and amandla.mobi calling on the minister of police, Nkosinathi Nhleko, and National Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega to disarm the police’s crowd-control units of their deadly R5 rifles.

The R5 assault rifle is based on the Israeli Galil, which was inspired by the AK-47. It was introduced into service with the South African police in the late 1980s, at the height of police oppression during apartheid.

Both organisations, find it unacceptable that a public institution tasked with “creating a safe and secure environment for all the people in South Africa”, continues to use these rifles in crowd-control situations, “despite the fact that the use of R5s go against international public order policing norms”. This follows a shocking report from the Farlam Commission at which an expert witness, Cees de Rover, noted that the use of R5s was “extremely dangerous and violated international policing best practice” because a bullet fired from an R5 rifle will travel for up to 600m after it is fired — increasing the risk of injuring bystanders. Also, because bullets from these rifles disintegrate, it is extremely difficult to holding individual officers accountable when the rifles are used to shoot at a crowd.

Why are these rifles being used?
An objective of the Policy and Guidelines: Policing of Public Protests, Gatherings and Major Events (2013) is to “provide a framework and facilitate the development of appropriate guidelines on the use of force in relation to crowd control and management that adheres to internationally accepted standards”. It also sets out interventions for crowd control, an attempt to regulate the use of force by the police, which should be appropriate to the threat faced. It is hard to even imagine protesters posing any kind of threat that warrants the use of R5s, rifles which fire 600 to 750 rounds a minute.

How prevalent is police brutality in public-order policing?
Most cases of police brutality involve public-order policing. Parliament’s research unit notes that:

* Figures from the Independent Police Investigative Directorate show that “the number of complaints of brutality by the police has soared since 2007… most of the complaints were filed against members of the unit for public-order policing, which is in charge of crowd control during protest”.
* According to the Institute for Security Studies, “In 2011/12 POP officers had to respond to 33 public-order-related incidents a day, of which at least three were violent.
* Former police minister Nathi Mthethwa reported that there were more than 13 000 protests in 2013 in which police were involved and 1 882 of them were violent protests. In 2014, City Press reported that “SAPS this year, on average, allegedly shot and killed one protester every four days in South Africa”.

No plans to stop the use of lethal force against protestors
Despite the known levels of lethal force in crowd-control situations, it is clear that the government has no plans to stop. Just last year South Africa, along with eight other countries (China, Cuba, India, Kenya, Pakistan, the Russian Federation, Venezuela and Vietnam) voted against the adoption of a United Nations resolution to promote and protect human rights in the context of peaceful protests. Resolution 25/38, which was adopted by the Human Rights Council on April 11 2014 “urges all States to avoid using force during peaceful protests and to ensure that, where force is absolutely necessary, no one is subject to excessive or indiscriminate use of force”. The resolution also “notes that lethal force may only be used as a last resort to protect against an imminent threat to life and that it may not be used merely to disperse a gathering”, furthermore affirming “that nothing can ever justify the indiscriminate use of lethal force against a crowd, which is unlawful under international human-rights law”.

The right to protest
The right to protest, linked to the right to freedom of expression, is considered a vital right in any democracy. South Africa, through its Constitution, has affirmed the importance of this right, which in Chapter 2, section 17 provides that: “Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed to assemble, demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions.”

It is a means through which people can voice their dissatisfaction, particularly when formal participatory methods fail, which they often do in South Africa. Protests are thus a means through which communities attempt to reclaim legitimacy as role-players in the development of their communities, seeking material improvements to their lives and are usually resorted to because attempts to engage the state at various levels have failed.

Yet protests are increasingly seen as threats to public order, rather than the exercising of a democratic right, with dissent and protest being criminalised.

But even when protestors disregard the responsibilities inherent in the right to protest, supressing violent protests with lethal military weapons both violates global policing norms and directly contradicts South Africa’s blueprint for development, the National Development Plan, which calls for a professional and demilitarised police service.

It is within this context that the use of R5s for crowd control must be banned. They not only threaten the lives of both protestors and bystanders, but also perpetuate a long history of lethal violence by South Africa’s police officers against citizens, a deplorable relic of apartheid 21 years into democracy.

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    • NONONO!!!

      R5 is a copy of the Galil, the apartheid
      system never invented anything, RoiValk failed project. nothing came up from
      the oppressor’s mind

    • 1Zoo1

      Some fact checking please.

      R5 rounds do not disintegrate, they are full metal jacket and designed not to disintegrate in a body. Only a round fired at a flat hard surface might disintegrate. That part is therefore completely false.

      Epic fail.

      R5s are effective out to 600m. So what? The 9mm handgun is lethal out to over 200m (if not especially accurate at that distance). So the sidearm of the policeman is as deadly as the rifle? Must police give up their sidearms too?

      If you;re going to make an argument, at least try and use some verifiable facts. All you have is emotive language and no logic. But then that’s what we expect from GFSA – all emotion no facts.

    • Doom

      “If you;re going to make an argument, at least try and use some verifiable facts” You are right 1Zoo1, the facts that underpin an argument ought to be verified this is especially so if the weight of the argument turns on the truth of those facts (claims). The question at hand is does the author’s argument lose anything from her misrepresentation of gun related facts, the answer in my opinion is no.

      The argument as far as I can surmise is about police brutality, the use of excessive force when trying to handle public protests. The issue at hand is the usage of firearms when trying to quell public unrest, the usage of firearms in general and not specifically the usage of the R5. You yourself actually make this point when you illustrate that the 9mm pistol is just as deadly as the R5. The issue is that police officers are too heavy-handed, how this heavy-handedness is instantiated or illustrated is irrelevant. The author is wrong about the R5 weapon but given what she has written, the intention as I see it was to highlight police brutality and not her expertise as far as firearms are concerned. She maybe wrong about the R5 but does it matter for her argument, I think not.

    • RSA.MommaCyndi

      Considering how quickly our protests can turn violent and how many illegal AK47s seem to be around, that could become interesting. Protecting a Somali shopkeeper – using a baton, a whistle and a stern voice – may not work so well though.

      As much as I am horrified at what happened at Marikana, if those police had been unarmed, they would have been slaughtered. The time to stop the tragedy was well before the faceoff. By the time the two sides were squared off, it was a foregone conclusion that things would not end well.

      Rather than taking away the guns, why don’t we just train them in more effective crowd control? Or, better yet, get our National Intelligence (now isn’t that a wonderful oxymoron?) could spend more time on local problems and less on blocking signals.

    • Paul S

      Nonsense. The R5 is no deadlier than any other 5.56mm rifle, or any medium power rifle currently in police use worldwide. It is the very least the SAPS can use to successfully combat the many criminals now armed with AK-47 and other automatic weapons. The real problem is inadequate police training in de-escalation and crowd management techniques and the SAPS need to address that with great urgency. SAPS asset control is also laughable which is why so many of their weapons fall into the wrong hands.

    • Andrew Taynton

      Good points: Both organisations, find it unacceptable that a public institution tasked with “creating a safe and secure environment for all the people in South Africa”, continues to use these rifles in crowd-control situations, “despite the fact that the use of R5s go against international public order policing norms”. This follows a shocking report from the Farlam Commission at which an expert witness, Cees de Rover, noted that the use of R5s was “extremely dangerous and violated international policing best practice”

    • FuXoR

      Yes disarm the law abiding police and give the rifles to more thugs so they can rob more supermarkets and police is powerless to stop them.

    • Joel Headlight

      Surely the adage: my ‘potential’ enemy’s enemy is my friend applies here? An R5 (regardless of fact checks & the questionable agenda of the GFSA) is far more collaterally deadly then any fire arm.

      Its deadliness might not be pointed against ‘criminals’ & ‘philistine Marikana labourers’ but against 1Zoo1 one day. Hence the need to support this initiative.

    • Keyser Soze
    • Hubert Jefferson

      What about the Creepy Crawlie?

      Could get nasty here and mention all the weapons systems, Sasol, Eskom (that worked), water and sanitation (that worked), etc. Apartheid was obviously deeply flawed but they did some things right and it would be best to leverage that expertise while it is still around.

    • 1Zoo1

      “Far more collaterally deadly”?

      Do public order police use R5s as their primary weapon? No, they use shotguns, tear gas and water cannon. They are backed up, should those methods prove futile, with more heavily armed police.

      The entire piece requires the writer to assume public order police are armed with R5s as a first resort.

      At Marikana, the miners dd not attack the public order police but the tactical response team section.

      By the way, a rubber bullet is lethal at ranges under 5m – see Tatane.

      A 9mm pistol fired indiscriminately in the air is deadly far from the rioting area.

      How many times is live ammunition used on protests? Consider the latest xenophobic riots – how many R5s were discharged at rioters?

      This is left completely alone. We are not told that this is SOP for the public order police to deal with riots with R5s, we are supposed to believe this is case by the way the article is put together, not by verifiable facts with a list of incidences where public order units used R5s instead of their normal gear.

    • 1Zoo1

      I will always support measures against police brutality and improved training of police

      Another fact which should be verified is the frequency of R5s being fired at protestors to disperse them instead of rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon.

      That is left unsaid and in an article like this it appears deliberate. I can’t recall much R5 use during the last xenophobic riots – do you?

      What she is after is to remove the R5 from the police, completely. This is actually not about police brutality because if it were, the tools used would be meaningless. Tatane was murdered with a rubber bullet, the Mozambican dragged behind the cop van (forgotten his name) was beaten to death in police cells.

    • NONONO!!!

      please stop it with the selective reading , the G6 is a upgrade of the G5 which is a copy of Canadian GC-45, you were hoping I didnt know (now you can release the air).
      “The G5 design was based on the Canadian GC-45 155mm gun which was highly modified to suit southern African conditions.”

    • amanzi

      The Apartheid system never invented anything ? what are you saying can you clarify please.

    • Wikus vd Merwe

      Hi Koketso,

      I support your stance.

      I often see police constables in my neighbourhood armed with a service
      pistol and a R5 while on patrol. Maybe it’s a sign of the times we live in. Being an honest cop in SA is a dangerous job. The crimmies are well armed, they
      shoot to kill, and police constables are easy targets.

      Back to the rifles: R4s and R5s are assault rifles. The muzzle velocity of a R5 bullet is approx 900 meters per second, which puts these rifles solidly into the high-velocity assault rifle category. Also, it depends on the ammunition used, but some bullet types are fractured on purpose during manufacture. The “fractured” bullet will break into 3-4 fragments upon hitting the human body. The fragments travel in different trajectories further into the body, GREATLY increasing the chances of fatal organ or arterial damage from a single bullet even if the point of entry was in a non-fatal part of the body. Lethal range for an R4/5 is easily up to 1,000 meters.

      R4/5s were never designed general police work nor riot control. They’re the
      kind of weapons you keep under lock and key, only to be used during times of war.

      Marikana was a powder kegjust waiting to go off. There were many opportunities for people in power to defuse the situation but alas no one did.
      I think by the time the bullets were flying the cops were fighting to save their own lives.

    • 1Zoo1

      “high-velocity assault rifle category”

      That’s an interesting category. There must be “low-velocity” and “medium velocity” categories too then?

      Could you tell us what assault rifles fall into those categories?

    • Keyser Soze

      The G6 is not an “upgrade” of the G5, it’s taking a howitzer and constructing a whole new weapon from it in that it was self-propelled and mine-resistant and still has to perform as a howitzer. Now let’s look at your GC-45 and you can spend some time reading about Denel working with the Canadian designers to help them with various technical issues.

    • Pierre Aycard

      Comments on this article are incredibly stupid and violent. Smells of some trigger-happy gun promoters who need to show off their manhood and glorify their guns. Or maybe show off their gun and glorify their manhood.

      So to try and elevate the debate, let me just express the basic point that this article should have made clearer. It will allow to force a more intelligent approach:

      “Assault rifles are weapons of war. They are to be used on the ennemy. Therefore as long as the police are allowed to use such weapons, especially for crowd control, it means that the people of South Africa are the ennemy, and that the South African government is at war with its people.”

      At least 30 years ago the government would have admitted this fact. Now nobody will even take an honest look at any fact.

    • http://craigpedersen.blogspot.com/ The3rdWors

      Dear GFSA Libtards

      Impressive – Complete with comments from an “expert” on first world policing with no ballistics experience at all. His assumptions are factually incorrect and any ballistics expert will confirm that.

      The use of a particular weapon during a particular era is sentimental and has no relevance at all – but it’s cute anyway.

      The expert questioning the necessity for the firepower of an R5 at a “protest” is banal. Clearly he hasn’t seen some of these protests, nor acknowledged the accessibility of AK47’s in many areas where these protests take place.

      Key to this argument, the author has omitted to clarify that shotguns and rubber ammunition are no longer permitted to be issued at Station Level since the death of Andre Tatane at the hands of a badly trained imbecile. The retraction of station level shotguns has led to many riots spiraling out of control – Hout Bay for example.

      Seriously – devoid of accurate facts, makes way too many assumptions and above all – makes no attempt to even gain opinion from people who use the tools.

      Ohh and finally, as to the 600m effective range? I can still despite my advancing years do a 4″ grouping at 100m with a stock standard 9mm pistol.. and that round would still be deadly at 240m plus… Go check your facts sausages

    • Joel Headlight

      The issue is not: “what is their primary weapon” or their “first resort.”

      The issue is what is their last resort!

      Even a hammer can be deadly. That is irrelevant when compared to the mass killing potential of a highly advanced automatic rifle.

      The issue is actually whether a weapon designed for war & as collaterally deadly as the supurb R5 should ever be used in instances of mass public policing?

      Germane to this is what is the political motivation of the police: can the police be fully trusted to obey democratic principles of good governance & are there sufficient control mechanisms & oversights on the ground to reign in potential authoritarian abuse?

      Our past & present record is appalling here!

      In the case of the xenophobic riots the non-use of the R5 proves nothing: for those riots were against small & relatively powerless foreign own shops in areas of South Africa deemed economically expendable. In fact police collusion ‘with’ the rioters is being suggested here…

      The xenophobic riots where not against either the A.N.C. government or large retail corporations and they did not occur in Sandton. Here a different outcome vis-a-vis R5 usage would have prevailed.

      Finally the point to be made is: what if that R5 is pointed against you 1Zoo1 & you are neither a criminal nor a terrorist?

    • Wikus vd Merwe

      High velocity = when the terminal velocity of the projectile
      at optimal range is greater than 700m/s. At this velocity or greater, fragmentation or significant deformation of the projectile is virtually guaranteed, even if the bullet wasn’t pre-fractured
      during manufacture. Examples of HVARs= AK47, R4, H&K G3.

      Low velocity = terminal velocity equal or less than 400m/s.
      Examples: H&K MP5, Uzi 9mm SMG.

      HOMEWORK: You can work out what medium velocity is, and
      provide examples. :-) Extra marks for a brief summary about the “stopping power” issues of the standard NATO 5.56mm round – which the R4/5/6 use.

    • 1Zoo1

      No they are not violent, but well done on trying to bring in some emotive speech and insult to play the man not the ball. I’m going to go ask a female police officer if she’s glorifying her manhood.

      An R5 is an assault rifle. Assault rifles is a “weapon of war” in the same way the humble panga is a “weapon of genocide”.

      It does not have an inherent nature, it is a piece of metal and plastic. Its what the person behind it puts it to that counts. If the South Africa government attacks the people it will use what it has available.

      You can control 100 people with just one gun if they don’t have one (to paraphrase Stalin).

      If you’re afraid of the government attacking the people, you need to arm the people not disarm the police of a singular firearm. The government still has the army after all…

    • Brian B

      Its not the clibre of the weapon that counts. Its the skill disipline and responsiveness of the police and armed forces, not just technically but also emotionally . A lot also depends on the consistency stability and wisdom of the government of the day.

    • Skoppienaai Sewinduit

      We’ve been saying goodbye to R5’s for a long long time. Every time our corrupt cops sell one to criminals, we’ve been saying goodbye. And then “Hello” again when it’s used in crime. And Hello again when our tax money is used to purchase a replacement. Same goes for their service pistols.

    • Skoppienaai Sewinduit

      Why don’t we then send the cops out with “katties” to fight the gangs with AK-47’s then Joel? The problem is not the deadliness of the police’s weapons, but their lack of training. Police should be trained to deal with public unrest with minimum required force, and not go for the extreme option. But you can’t remove the extreme option, it’s there for a very good reason, to deal with situations where they face huge amounts of firepower and the willingness to use it.

    • 1Zoo1

      The cops do need a last resort somewhere. if they are attacked and their lives are in danger from a large mob, they need something.

      Now we seem to agree on a number of things actually and you make some good points.

      If those R5s are to be pointed at Joe Soap, then Joe Soap better be allowed to own them too. That’s the only way to ensure that R5s don’t ever get pointed at people by the cops.

      BTW the way, we design a lot of things for war, not just firearms. In fact, if you look around, a lot of what is modern convenience comes directly from war. A firearm is no different to any other tool, and as we will agree, its how its deployed that counts.

    • 1Zoo1

      MP5 and Uzi are submachine guns not assault rifles.

      Different category of weapon.

    • Pierre Aycard

      I’m sorry that I can only laugh at the mind-blowing logic of your reasonning: in order to make a safer society where people will not fear to be attacked by their own government, let us give guns to everyone. Guns which are perfectly neutral items, for they were not in any case designed to kill people in large numbers (in the case of a machine gun).

      I am not afraid of anything. I just note that the people is not afraid either. Hence when I see cops entering shops armed with thier machine guns to buy chips in my Sowetan neighbourhood (which is totally illegal, as the rifle is due to stay in the car with the cop’s partner), I wish the shop tenant wasn’t afraid either. This way he could put a gun in that cop’s face, and he could either kill the irresponsible bastard or call the real cops, those with red berets. Or this the army? I am not sure, they call their officers captains, colonels and generals, after all…

      Yeah. This way, more guns, used irresponsibly, will bring us peace. Cause guns are so neutral..

    • Madbob

      And just how do you suggest that the police are to respond to criminals wielding AK47 fully automatic weapons ? With the 9mm pistol with the 1 clip of 9 rounds that are permitted to carry ?? The NDP’s idea of a demilitarised police force is NEVER going to happen. This is because firstly it is corrupt to the core at the moment with not much hope of getting better. The average response time to serious complaints has effectively gone from 12 mins to 18 mins and is now at a staggering 22 mins…. does that sound like its getting better ? What must citizens do when they called the police, wait 20 mins and offer the criminals a cup of tea in the meantime ? Our country is littered with cashes of AK47 rifles from decades ago, until these weapons are off the street I do not see for one minute why a police officer should not be allowed to respond with appropriate force equal top or greater than the criminals. If the writer thinks things are getting better when police are clearly manipulating statistics they are clearly wrong.

    • Spectrekiller

      Are we still talking about crowd contrlol or criminals? Are protestors criminals with AK47s?

    • Skoppienaai Sewinduit

      Lol, this is wishful thinking. Just because you hate them, doesn’t mean they weren’t good at producing weapons. Learn to be objective. It’s like saying the Germans never produced decent weaponry in WW2, just because they were the bad guys, doesn’t make it true. Some of their weaponry was far superior to the Allies. Certain tanks and aircraft come to mind. Same applies to the apartheid government. The only reason the Rooivalk failed was because the US pressured buyers to take the Apache instead, and threatened to withhold other armaments which we couldn’t supply if they didn’t, even though the Rooivalk was superior to the Apache.

    • Joel Headlight

      The issue here relates specifically to crowd control units & not the various tactical or reactionary units available to the police force when dealing with AK-47 armed gangs…

      The author at no points speaks of banning the R5 per se but of banning its application in crowd control situations (like service delivery protests).

      By the way: when is the ‘white’ community going to develop the necessary balls to take to the street against ‘affirmative action’ discrimination & will those R5 rifles be pointed at this group of marchers?

    • SloopJB

      The point is: are AK-47s being used by protesters? I didn’t see any being used at Marikana, just the occasional pistol. If not, the R5 is over-the-top and the cops must make do with batons, water canon, and their 9mm side arms as a last resort.

    • Paul S

      Suggest a careful reread of my comment.. Especially the part where I identify the real problem, as I see it.

    • Staaldraad

      I am truly unsure if this article really fits the heading thereof….

    • Staaldraad

      Also, I wonder where all these R5s would end up rather than in the hands of police? On our streets? To some foreign country to kill their citizens? To some conflict state? Government would never put such an asset to the Mittal furnace as they did with civilian weapons during the recent disarmament of us law abiding citizens.

    • NONONO!!!

      Wishful thinking just because you like them so much you had to compare them with the Nazi lolol very funny(sarcasm there smartie) . Am not going to compare SA with Germany, so show me the evidence I will then accept your comparison.

    • RSA.MommaCyndi

      Did the police know, for certain, that there were no AK47s? Would it have made it more acceptable if there were a few AK47s? Is it beyond belief that someone, participating in a violent protest, may possibly have access to an AK47? The real point is that our country has a problem with illegal weapons and a police force which never knows when one of those illegal weapons will be targeting them

    • http://www.laauwen.co.za/ Bernpm

      1ZOO1: “…… I will always support measures against police brutality and improved training of police…….”

      I scanned through the 30+ comments in this debate and found being exposed to all the “gun knowledge” interesting. My knowledge is limited to a WW2 Lee-Enfield and the 9 mm air defense artillery, used during my army days in the ’50’s

      The common denominator seems that all guns have the potential to kill a target at distance. The debate started with the statement that the police should not use the R5?? and degenerated in a knowledge spitting by a mixture of experts on guns and related killing potential and distance.

      What a waste of time and space.

    • Ian Willis

      Unfortunately the term crowd control in this country is an oxymoron, crowds are very difficult to control, add the violent tendencies we have here and situations rapidly spiral to a point where someone is going to get killed regardless.
      The police are damned if they do act, and damned if they don’t.
      Having said this assault rifles ,or for that matter most any weapon are deadly in untrained or ill disciplined hands.
      This for me is the crux of the matter, a gunslinger with a badge and a uniform is just that a gunslinger, not a policeman.
      One cannot expect policemen to enforce the law in these situations if they are poorly armed, shotguns are more than ample for the most part.
      R1’s or R5’s should be carried by only by specially trained and highly disciplined individuals in a support role only, and under the direct command of a suitable officer.

    • 1Zoo1

      Yes. Guns do have the potential to kill at a distance, all of them. I pointed out above that a 9mm is deadly at longer ranges than most would even consider. No doubt the author of the piece has no idea that the 9mm handgun has a very long reach (even if not accurate). So where do you stop? Is it a range thing? shotguns only with birdshot no buck shot?

      This article has nothing to do with police brutality but with their weapons. Its a confused, anti-gun diatribe which takes us nowhere really.

    • Wikus vd Merwe

      Yeah, look don’t let the quartermaster pull the wool over your eyes. Yes, UZIs and MP5s are often classified as SMGs but there’s a lot of uncertainty about exactly what an SMG is supposed to be. Uzis in particular are also classified as machine pistols, machine rifles, PPWs and so on. But the Uzi is an interesting weapon to explore further…

      The first Uzis were classified as assault rifles and issued to infantry platoons assigned the job of assaulting enemy fortifications or to special forces with a similar task. Uzis are technically rifles since their barrels have rifling.
      So, Uzis are really assault rifles although their usage have changed completely over time.

      Later on Uzis were issued to rear area troops as personal protection weapons. Later still Uzis went to paratroopers and armoured vehicle crews for similar purposes – the
      weapon’s small dimensions made it suitable for troops in confined spaces.

      These days Uzis have been replaced by (you guessed it) high velocity assault rifles in the assault role, although some special forces still use Uzi equivalents. Most Uzis today (and their equivalents) are used as personal protection weapons. Try accosting a head of state at a political event and watch the Uzis (or cheaper copies) pop out all around you :-).

      Take a look at the muzzle velocity of an Uzi in my previous post and you’ll see that is low velocity. So,
      an Uzi is really a low velocity assault rifle, in spite of the QM’s feelings about this classification.

    • Heidi

      I do not think that this campaign to remove R5 from the police has been thought through it reeks of a GFSA agenda