Does the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) know its arms from its elbow?

Confusion still surrounds the origin of the weapons which led to the raid on the South Africa National Museum of Military History in Saxonwold, Johannesburg, a week ago.

And the failure by military authorities to explain how artillery pieces recorded as having been destroyed were, in fact, on public display has led to questions being raised over the SANDF's ability to manage its weapons inventory.

A joint Military Police and South African Police Services operation led to the seizure of four armoured vehicles from the museum. The raid came after authorities received information that the museum was holding "war-capable weapons and vehicles".

A Ratel infantry combat vehicle, an Eland 60, a Ferret and Eland 90, collectively worth an estimated R120-million, were removed from the museum.

Investigators also threatened to confiscate a G5 cannon and a self-propelled G6 artillery piece.

Museum director John Keen and two curators, Susanne Blendulf and Richard Henry, were arrested for the possession of "suspected stolen" military equipment.

Charges against the trio were subsequently dropped and they were released last Friday.

Fani Molapo, spokesperson for the operation, said that according to military records the vehicles had been destroyed. Police on the scene are also alleged to have told museum staff that military records showed the vehicles as destroyed.

However, military expert and Jane's Defence Weekly correspondent Helmoed-Römer Heitman says the military records are incorrect.

"I can understand if the light armoured vehicles were destroyed. But destroying valuable G5 and G6 cannons is ludicrous," said Heitman.

Heitman said the two artillery pieces had been on public exhibit for a number of years.

"What the military is really saying is that it had no idea that two of its most advanced weapons in its arsenal were missing," he said.

SANDF inventory figures show the military currently has 72 G5 and 43 G6 cannons, the majority of which are recorded as being in storage.

Only 41 G5s and 12 G6s are operational with the artillery corps.

"The question we should be asking is: if two cannons can go missing, how many more have been lost or misplaced," said Heitman.

Defence communications spokesperson Major-General Mohato Mofokeng said investigations were intended to determine both the origin of the weapons and how the museum acquired them.

"Investigations are continuing into what appears to be an irregular acquisition of military equipment," he said.

Mofokeng refused to elaborate on how the artillery pieces were recorded as having been destroyed but were in fact on public display.

He also refused to comment on whether the artillery pieces had ever appeared on the SANDF's inventory.

"It is not known at this stage if the cannons were decommissioned and given to the museum by the SANDF," he said.

However, Denel, which makes the G5 and G6, said the museum's cannons had not come from them.

"We have no records of donating either of the weapons to the museum," said spokesperson Sam Basch.

Armscor, responsible for their manufacturing before 1992, also denies donating the cannons.

Spokesperson Bertus Cilliers says an Armscor investigation had found no evidence of any donation of the artillery pieces.

"They do not come from Armscor," said Cilliers.

Makgolo Makgolo, chief executive officer of the Northern Flagship Institution (NFI), responsible for the country's museums, said NFI and the SANDF had on Thursday reached an agreement over the confiscation.

"Both parties agreed to co-operate and to establish a joint task team that will ensure compliance with military regulations in terms of security and how such military objects are, and have been, acquired," he said.