By Zenzile Khoisan

Thieves have stolen military supplies and equipment worth more than R7-million from South African National Defence Force (SANDF) bases countrywide over the past seven months.

The stolen supplies and equipment include assault and sniper rifles, vehicles, artillery pieces, pistols, medical supplies and an FT5 missile system.

It has also been established that the military is investigating the theft of two helicopters from Lohatla Army Battle School at Postmasburg in the Northern Cape after intelligence reports from the base suggest that the choppers are unaccounted for.

The missing FT5 missile system, worth about R13 000, is a versatile weapon that is capable of causing significant destruction.

It can be operated by a single person.

The system is capable of destroying sophisticated modern tanks and reinforced bunkers.

The missile, a light anti-armour weapons system, was manufactured by Somchem, the Somerset West division of Denel, the state-owned weapons manufacturer, and is the product of several years of research and development.

Albrow Camillo, public relations officer for Somchem, said: "Over the last few years we have sold several of these anti-tank and advanced anti-tank systems to the SANDF."

However, the missile is not the only problem. Vans, military trucks, Star 9mm pistols and medical supplies have simply gone missing from the military.

Asked to comment on the thefts, General Chris Pepane of SANDF corporate communications said: "Tomorrow we will answer all your questions."

Two weeks ago NNP MP Hennie Smit quizzed Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota on the theft of army and navy equipment. Lekota admitted there were problems.

The Cape Times has acquired a detailed list of property stolen from the SANDF since July.

Other items reported stolen include a mortar from 4 Special Forces regiment, a bus from 9 Engineering regiment, four pairs of running shoes, a weed-eater from North West Command, four pairs of rank tokens from Natal Command, two batteries from Gauteng Command, a vinyl cutter, a computer mouse, keyboard and monitor from North West Command headquarters.

"It certainly makes you wonder just what is going on there," said Jakkie Potgieter, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, which is preparing a report on the missing SANDF weapons.

"The use of an FT5 by a criminal could be potentially dangerous."

Potgieter said that the armoured vehicles used by security firms would be unable to withstand an attack from a group using this weapon in cash-in-transit heists.

"The FT5 is designed to destroy the best that the military can put on a battlefield, which is a tank," warned Potgieter.

Sam Mukwanazi, director of communications in the Department of Defence said: "There are some mechanisms in place to stop the theft of defence force property, including weapons."

"There is a policy regarding these issues. For example, defence force property gets registered and there are control measures such as conducting routine checks."

Commenting on the lack of accountability, Mukwanazi said commanding officers would be held responsible in future.

"These matters are also reported to the police and criminal charges are laid so that investigations can take place," said Mukwanazi.

Lekota has stated that there is no place for criminals in the SANDF.

He has now directed that people charged with serious criminal offences should be suspended immediately and that they should only return to the SANDF once they have been cleared of these allegations.

There have also been some successes in combating the theft.

"Three 90mm cannon worth R250 000 which were reported stolen, have since been recovered by the SANDF and these particular weapons had been taken to Denel to be refitted."

The Department of Defence did not say what was being refitted on the cannon.

Civilian Intelligence sources have confirmed that an investigation is under way regarding the thefts, but said the thefts "are now largely a police matter".