South Africa's struggle against crime is facing a severe setback due to the alarming increase in the theft of State and police firearms, as recent parliamentary inquiries and responses have revealed.
In a concerning disclosure, Police Minister Bheki Cele admitted to the steady loss of South African Police Service (SAPS) firearms under his leadership.
According to his parliamentary response to the Democratic Alliance (DA), Cele revealed that 1,725 SAPS firearms were stolen between April 2021 and July 2023, averaging 61 firearms per month.
According to Okkie Terblanche, the DA spokesman for Police, the figures for the 2023/24 financial year are on track to surpass 800, the highest in over a decade.
“The fact that 1,725 firearms have been stolen means that there are potentially up to 1,725 more criminals in South Africa, or worse, have solidified gangs into small powerful armies, further exacerbating the fear most citizens already go to bed with at night,” Terblanche said.
“However, what is most worrying is that these growing numbers indicate that SAPS, under the lacklustre leadership of Bheki Cele, has been unable to stop the growing trend, and whatever they have been doing is not working,” he added.
Simultaneously, parliamentary questions by Pieter Groenewald of the Freedom Front Plus (FF Plus) to Ministers of Defence and Military Veterans, Police as well as Justice and Correctional Services, revealed that numerous state firearms have been either lost or stolen.
The impact of these stolen firearms is far-reaching.
Groenewald claims that approximately 2,000 stolen firearms were linked to the deaths of 89 children, with another 170 children wounded.
Despite the FF Plus's efforts to obtain information on crimes committed with these stolen firearms, their queries remain unanswered due to ongoing class action litigation against the police by victims' families.
The statistics are alarming: between the 2019 financial year and the end of last year, 42 firearms, including 33 R4 and R1 assault rifles, were stolen from the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), along with over 3,000 rounds of ammunition.
In the Department of Justice and Correctional Services, 18 handguns and 295 rounds of ammunition were either stolen or lost in 19 incidents. The majority of these cases remain unresolved, with only a handful of SANDF members charged, and two Justice and Correctional Services members dismissed.
“The aforementioned information makes it clear that this is a big problem, while the steps taken, prosecution and prevention are all small-scale. Meanwhile, there is a steady stream of dangerous firearms from the State ending up in criminals’ hands. The situation can be turned around quickly if the government would just tackle it with the same zeal as it demonstrates in its efforts to criminalise lawful, private firearm ownership,” Groenewald said.