If you deserve a firearm licence and qualify for one, you will get it. This is the promise from the head of the Central Firearms Register (CFR) in Pretoria, Brigadier Miriam Mangwane. She is confident that the problems her office faced in the past are over. New firearm applications should be processed within 90 days.
“If there is a delay, there is an explanation,” she said.
But gun licence expert and attorney Martin Hood is of the opinion that conditions remain chaotic at the registry agency.
Hood said although Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa had undertaken to rectify the shortcomings, things had not improved much.
One problem was that there had been enormous internal reorganisation in December to divide the registry regionally into six departments.
This meant that where one person had performed a certain function before – such as issuing licences for security companies – this job had been replicated in six departments.
“There is no institutional knowledge in the registry and with changes or the moving of staff, their personal knowledge disappears.”
Hood said most of the litigation in which he was now involved was on behalf of security companies that were battling to obtain licences.
They had been battling to get licences for several years and it seemed the police had ignored them, Hood said.
But Mangwane said this was not the case.
“If there is a delay with any application, there is a reason for it.”
Mangwane said the profiles of security companies had to be checked first to establish whether they were affiliated to official bodies. It often happened that there was duplication – with one firearm being registered twice.
“We then have to go back to the dealer and this is a long process.”
In a recent order granted in an application by security companies that were battling to obtain licences, the High Court in Pretoria said that not only these firms, but “all people who have applied for competency certificates, are entitled to have their certificates issued and their applications processed within four months, to comply with reasonable administrative action”.
Hood said the police were finalising a substantial number of applications within four months, but not all of them.
“The majority of complaints are based on ‘lost documentation’, where the police ask that the documentation be resubmitted,” he said.
“This overburdens the system with various applications for the same firearm licence.”
Two forensic investigators at the SA Social Security Agency, Jos Mofokeng and Johnson Mgiba, have been waiting since 2009 for their applications to be processed.
They are upset because they have been told that their applications have been missing since the registry office in Waltloo moved.
“Nothing happened since 2009. Now we are told our applications went missing and we have to reapply,” Mofokeng said.
“This means we have to go through all the motions and incur all the initial costs and obtain another competency certificate. Meanwhile, we have to go through each day without having a firearm for self-defence.”
Mgiba said the registry computer showed that they had applied for their licences, but they had to go through all the procedures again.
“I do a job for which I need a firearm. I also travel around the country and do not have the time to reapply. Worst of all is that there is no guarantee I will eventually get my licence,” Mgiba said.
Mangwane said there was a problem with the “mop-up” that resulted from the backlog. It appeared these two applications were part of the backlog, but Mofokeng and Mgiba would be issued with their licences within two weeks, she said.
Hood thinks corruption is blooming at the registry.
“Corruption goes up to the very highest levels,” Hood said.
“It is now easier to buy a licence or a temporary authorisation, than to go through the process of submitting an application.”
Mangwane said allegations of corruption were being investigated.
“I want to turn things around. The corrupter and the (corrupted) should face the consequences.”
Mangwane said she had an open door policy.
“If people have problems, they can contact my office, rather that incurring costs by running to court. I want people to come forward to say what their problems are.”
Many people had complimented the registry on the progress made.
“But it is a process which takes time … We try to sort things out, but it is a process.
“We cannot allow everyone in the country to own a firearm. A licence must be obtained legally.”
The registry was striving to have a database soon where all firearms in the country would be registered, as there were many illegal firearms in the country.
Mangwane said it was very important that people give a full explanation of why they needed to own a firearm.
“They also need to know that the policy is one gun, one licence. People will have to motivate why they need more than one gun licence.”
One of the problems was that people did not contact their local police station to find out whether their licences were there. A large number of gun licences had not been collected.
“The registry is very approachable. People who have problems or need follow-up information on their applications are welcome to contact us,” Mangwane said.
The 24-hour call centre number is 012 353 6111.