Cape Town - Firearms from police and military armouries, and guns purportedly stolen from officers, are increasingly being found on the streets of the Cape Flats. They have also been blamed for the ongoing scourge of gun violence.
On Thursday, police confiscated two R5 rifles, among other firearms and ammunition in a raid by the Anti-Gang Unit in Happy Valley, Mfuleni. It came after a report by Corruption Watch that detailed the extent of corruption in the police service.
Chairperson of the SA Gun Owners Association John Welch said most, if not all, automatic firearms used in cash-in-transit heists and business robberies originated either from the military or police, or had been smuggled into the country across borders.
“Not one came from licensed firearm owners.”
Welch said the association believed too much emphasis was placed on firearms lost by, stolen and robbed from licensed firearm owners, “whereas too little is done about firearms lost by and stolen from the police and military”.
“Recently it was reported that a person who pretended to be a soldier stole firearms, ammunition and explosives. On many occasions, politicians have asked the police minister about the steps taken to prevent the theft and loss of firearms, and although the minister tried to respond, it was far from satisfactory.
“We still have to see statistics of police officials having been convicted and sentenced and declared unfit to possess firearms. Although we were told that disciplinary steps are instituted against such police officials, we still do not know what the outcome of any of these disciplinary inquiries is.”
Senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies Dr Johan Burger said some officers lied about their firearms that went missing.
“There is also a large percentage that are lost through criminal activities. There are those officers who sell these firearms to criminal groups and then report them stolen or that they were robbed.”
Burger said the situation had improved over the years, and former police minister Nathi Mthethwa had been “genuinely concerned” and had put serious measures in place to reduce the number of firearms going missing.
“If there are proper mechanisms in place, you can reduce this. To just warn or let them get away with a fine is not enough. There needs to be more done and thorough investigation into every instance is key.”
Director of Gun Free South Africa Adèle Kirsten, said firearms were misused by police in various ways, including being hired out to criminals, or lost or stolen because of negligence. Furthermore, thousands of police members were carrying firearms without the required certification.
Kirsten said firearm loss and theft of civilian guns resulted from police failing to safely store firearms that had either been handed in by members of the public for destruction, or recovered from crime scenes.
“The list of incidents of police involvement in the loss and theft of firearms, as well as engaging in corrupt practices, is alarming as it points to a failure of the police to exercise control over its use and management of firearms.”
On Thursday Corruption Watch released a report on the alarming levels of corruption in policing in South Africa.
The watch’s Phemelo Khaas said that since the organisation’s inception in 2012, about 1400 members of the public had shared their experiences of corruption at the hands of the police.
He said the leading categories of corruption from these reports are bribery, 33%, abuse of power, 23%, and dereliction of duty, 18%.
According to Corruption Watch, the most implicated police officials were detectives and investigating officers, who were frequently aided by other colleagues.