Firearms used by the South African Police Service – Specifications and purpose

South African police officers have an arsenal of firearms at their disposal.

This is particularly important in a country as violent as South Africa, where official police statistics for 2018/2019 showed over 24,000 reports of robberies with aggravating circumstances.

These include crimes such as hijackings, cash-in-transit heists, and robberies at residential and business premises.

The level of armament among criminals requires the country’s police members to be suitably trained and equipped for engaging with them on an equal footing.

This is why police officers may be issued with several different firearms – including pistols, rifles, and shotguns.

Previously, weapon-carrying officers were required to undergo practical firearm training for these weapons every 12 months (1 year).

However, an amendment to the particular regulations under the Firearms Act now determines that this is only needed every 60 months (5 years).

MyBroadband spoke to South African Gunowners’ Association (SAGA) president John Welch to learn more about the current weapons issued to SA Police Service members.


Welch explained that all deployed police officers are armed with pistols, which provide a means of defence against serious and potentially lethal attacks.

Police officers are generally issued with the Vektor Z88, developed by South African weapons manufacturer Denel, as a close copy of the Italian Beretta M92 9mmP pistol.

The handguns use the Parabellum 9x19mm cartridge developed by George Luger and originally employed in the Luger pistol.

Welch explained that the police likely still had Berettas in stock and officers with longer service might still be carrying these.

While both the Z88 and Beretta M92 pistols are regarded as reliable and accurate, Welch said he was aware that other firearms have been tested.

This was because the Z88 is no longer being manufactured, which means spare parts and new stock may become scarce, Welch noted.

Trials have included a newer version of the Beretta, as well as the 9mmP Sig Sauer, and Glock pistols.

Vektor Z88


Members of the flying squad and other rapid response unit members also carry R5 automatic rifles which, along with the army-issue R4, are South African versions of Israeli IMI Galil rifles.

The R4 and R5 replaced the 7.6mm R1 or FAL rifles in the 1980s and are still the current issue rifles for soldiers today.

“The R4 is a typical automatic rifle in the calibre 5.56 x 45 mm with a 30-round magazine and a folding butt-stock. The civilian equivalent uses .223 ammunition.”

The R5 has a shorter barrel and was found to be more suitable for the police, Welch explained.

Despite its aggressive appearance, he believes there is a place for the weapon in the police’s armoury.

“It ought to be a last-ditch defensive weapon,” he stated. “Operating within an urban environment, any fully automatic rifle or carbine is seldom a good idea, unless they are extremely well-trained,” Welch added.

According to Welch’s knowledge, the R5 used by the Special Task Force has been upgraded to look more like the US M5, but the calibre and functioning remain the same.

Below is an image of the Vektor LM5, the semi-automatic version of the R5.

Vektor LM5 - An automatic version of the R5

Shotguns and other firearms

Welch said there are several other firearms that police members may carry, including shotguns, which are primarily used in conjunction with rubber bullets in order to disperse troublesome crowds at protests.

“The police also use 12 gauge pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns, mostly made by Beretta,” Welch noted.

“They are very effective defensive weapons and especially for house-clearing where you deal with deadly criminals, few things are better than buckshot at short range,” he explained.

Another benefit is that lethality is minimised at longer ranges, whereas the R5 bullet continues to travel for many kilometres.

“The police also used to use the Walther and Uzi sub-machine guns in 9mmP, but, with the exception of the Special Task Force that has a defined use for such weapons, ordinary police officers do not require them,” Welch noted.

Below are images of the Uzi submachine gun, Walther PPK, and Beretta RS202 shotgun.

Uzi submachine gun Walther pistol and Beretta shotgun

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Firearms used by the South African Police Service – Specifications and purpose