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Durban - Security at the police ballistics testing centre in Amanzimtoti has been called into question following the theft of seven firearms, which was only discovered last week.
The guns, some of which are the property of the Durban metro police, disappeared from the centre after a shooting in Lamontville.
There are indications that police officers were involved in the theft as the weapons, which were confiscated for testing, had been signed out and have since disappeared.
The theft has serious implications for the investigation of the case, with security experts and anti-gun lobbyists outraged at the incident.
The centre, which is a national structure, handles thousands of weapons every year and is responsible for ballistics testing and analysis of all guns used in the commission or prevention of a crime.
According to a well-placed police source, who would not be named because he is not authorised to speak to the press, centre officials have been searching for the missing weapons.
“They have been looking for the guns that were used in a shooting in Lamontville because someone signed the weapons out and now they are missing.”
The source said this was indicative of an “inside job”, as only police officers had access to the register to remove weapons for testing.
“Whichever case these guns are linked to will now be shaken to its foundations. If testing cannot be conducted because evidence has been compromised, there must be an agenda. It appears as if someone wanted these guns to go missing.”
The source said checks and balances to ensure confiscated guns remain secure at the facility had not prevented the loss.
Another police source confirmed the guns were missing and that the search had yet to identify who had signed the weapons out.
KwaZulu-Natal violence monitor Mary de Haas wrote to the provincial and national police commissioners in February, warning of lax security at the centre.
The letter, of which the Sunday Tribune has a copy, notes the absence of security.
“I have received a report that there are no armed police members or guards stationed at the SAPS ballistics testing centre at Amanzimtoti, especially during the evening hours,” reads the letter.
“It is also alleged that there have been suspicious movements in the vicinity of the centre…
“Please will you investigate these allegations as a matter of extreme urgency and, if it is true that there are no armed members… deploy sufficient armed personnel there immediately, with a view to preventing any further crimes relating to gun exhibits.” she wrote.
De Haas said it was clear her warning went unheeded.
Claire Taylor of Gun-free South Africa said weakness in firearm control had created a massive illegal pool of firearms in the country.
“The loss or theft of the seven guns from Amanzimtoti is part of a much bigger problem of diversion, where legal guns are lost to the illegal pool because of weaknesses in the chain of firearms control.
“These weaknesses allow legal guns to be siphoned out of the legal pool and into the illegal pool. With this is mind, it is critical that the systems to regulate licensed guns are stringently enforced. The police have failed in their duty to do this in Amanzimtoti,” she said.
“Unfortunately, Amanzimtoti isn’t an isolated incident and is the most recent in a long list of incidents proving that the firearms control management system is under severe strain, and GFSA is not confident that it is doing what it is supposed to do, which is regulate gun ownership and gun use in South Africa.”
Police spokesman Colonel Jay Naicker responded: “According to what I could establish, the firearms were seized after a shooting incident two years ago involving SAPS and metro police. The case is being investigated by IPID.
“The ballistics report was received and forwarded to IPID, but the firearms were not accounted for.”
Naicker said he had been told that a senior officer from the CRC head office is investigating the whereabouts of the firearms.