Soldiers with access to weapons are being used by crime syndicates to help steal them, a security expert says.

In the past three years, 50 firearms – including a machine gun, a grenade launcher and 38 automatic assault rifles – have been lost or stolen from the Defence Force, Minister of Defence and Military Veterans Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula has confirmed.

She was responding to a parliamentary question from Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald, who said the loss of R5 assault rifles was particularly worrying as these were used in cash-in-transit heists. In April and May this year alone, nine automatic assault rifles were stolen or lost, including three R4s and six R5s.

“It is precisely this type of weapon which is used in [cash-in-transit] heists but is now also being used in robberies at shopping malls and even in farm attacks,” he said.

Groenewald said it was of further concern that precautionary measures had not changed since 2010, when he had posed a similar question to the former minister, Lindiwe Sisulu.

“That means that there is poor management and poor discipline in the control of firearms in the SA National Defence Force. The only thing that is new is that the weapons have been barcoded with dot-peen machines to show that the firearms belong to the defence force,” he said.

He called on the minister to say whether disciplinary steps would be taken against those responsible for the weapons. “The current system promotes crime because this type of weapon cannot be owned by members of the public and can only be obtained from the defence force or the police,” he said.

Seven firearms, including three 9mm pistols, three R4s and one R5 were lost or stolen from the defence force in 2009/10, while 2010/11 saw a spike in lost or stolen firearms, totalling 20 in that year.

Gareth Newham, head of the crime and justice programme at the Institute for Security Studies, said powerful weapons such as those used for cash-in-transit heists, bigger shop robberies and to arm criminals bombing ATMs, were difficult to get hold of.

“Therefore it would make sense for syndicates to target the military and police. It would be difficult – without some kind of inside connection – [to find out] where they are kept and how to get them,” he said, adding it was unusual for criminals not to have links to the defence force.

“Organised crime and cash-in-transit syndicates have money to spend, and soldiers who are corruptible can make money [from siphoning firearms]. Some are also involved in devising operational plans,” he said.

Political Bureau