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Class action to be brought against SAPS for deaths, injuries due to corrupt, negligent firearms management

Christiaan Prinsloo, a former police officer, appeared in the Bellville Magistrate’s Court where he faces 28 charges related to his alleged theft of firearms from police storage facilities and which he allegedly sold to gangsters. File picture: Cindy Waxa

Christiaan Prinsloo, a former police officer, appeared in the Bellville Magistrate’s Court where he faces 28 charges related to his alleged theft of firearms from police storage facilities and which he allegedly sold to gangsters. File picture: Cindy Waxa

Published Mar 6, 2023


Durban – Gun Free SA (GFSA) has instituted class action against the SAPS for deaths and injuries allegedly resulting from corrupt, negligent firearms management.

It said that the police were accountable for crimes committed by senior SAPS member Colonel Christiaan Prinsloo, who confessed to selling more than 2 000 guns in police stores to gang leaders on the Cape Flats. Prinsloo was assisted in his criminal enterprise by his colleague, Colonel David Charles Naidoo. As of 2016, the SAPS has records that “Prinsloo’s guns” have been used in at least 1 066 murders, with 187 children being killed by criminals using a “Prinsloo gun”.

GFSA said it has given notice to Police Minister Bheki Cele of class action proceedings in which damages will be sought from the minister arising from deaths and injuries due to the actions of Christiaan Prinsloo and David Naidoo, who co-ordinated the sale of guns to gangs.

GFSA director Adèle Kirsten said: “As the virus of gun violence spreads, it’s time to hold the police accountable for their negligence.”

Kirsten said the police have failed to ensure that SA has a strong and effective weapons and ammunition management system in place, and this enabled someone like Prinsloo to steal guns in police stores and leak them into communities for years, undetected. Furthermore, the police had failed to adequately address systemic failures in SAPS’s stockpile management system to prevent more legal guns from leaking into criminal hands, thereby contributing to the pool of weapons in the country.

She said that with guns ever more available, gun violence has increased. Guns are now the leading cause of murder in South Africa, with 34 people shot and killed every day between October and December 2022.

GFSA said that when the police’s Operation Impi uncovered Prinsloo’s criminality in 2016, SAPS’s Legal Division warned that unless the stolen firearms still in the hands of criminals were retrieved and systems put in place to prevent further corruption, the risk of litigation was “enormous”. In September 2016, SAPS recorded that at least a thousand “Prinsloo” guns remained in circulation and continued to maim and kill people across the country. It was at this same time that SAPS disbanded Operation Impi and there is no publicly accessible information related to the SAPS’s progress (if any) in recovering the firearms and ammunition sold into criminal hands by Prinsloo.

“These guns continue to circulate in our communities,” said Cape Flats Safety Forum secretary Lynn Phillips, “and they pose the biggest threat to our right to life.” She added: “This is why the police need to have dedicated teams that go after these guns, find them, and destroy them.”

GFSA said that as required by law, notices in terms of the Institution of Legal Proceedings Against Certain Organs of State Act, 2002 have been sent to the minister of police, national police commissioner and provincial police commissioners giving notice of the class action, specifically that an application for the certification of class action proceedings will be lodged with the Western Cape High Court in 60 days.

It said that litigants in the class action included the parents and guardians of children who were injured, dependants of victims killed, and those who survived a shooting with a Prinsloo gun. Several families have already given witness statements and work continues to identify further claimants. A large firm of attorneys has taken the case pro bono, and secured prominent senior and junior legal counsel to represent the litigants in the Western Cape High Court.

GFSA added that any class action is a complex and lengthy process, and GFSA has committed to updating the media and stakeholders as soon as there are further developments.

Meanwhile, UN secretary-general António Guterres on the first ever International Day for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Awareness, on March 5, 2023, when the global community gathers around a fundamental conviction, said that nuclear, chemical, biological and unpredictable autonomous and other indiscriminate weapon systems have no place in our world.

Guterres said that today, these and other threats continue to menace humanity, with record levels of military spending, rising mistrust, and geopolitical tensions that, left unchecked, could spiral into even greater conflict.

In particular, the number of nuclear weapons held in stockpiles around the world remains at around 13 000 – more than enough to destroy our planet many times over at a time when the risk of use is at its highest since the Cold War.

“On this important day, I call on all partners … to turn up the volume on this collective emergency and raise awareness about the critical importance of disarmament and non-proliferation to humanity’s future,” Guterres said.

“I also urge leaders to take steps to strengthen the global disarmament and non-proliferation regime – including the Treaty on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons – and support a New Agenda for Peace with a reinvigorated vision for disarmament.”

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