Six rocket launchers and four mortars are among weaponry that has gone missing from SA National Defence Force arsenals over the past year, Defence and Military Veterans Minister Lindiwe Sisulu revealed.
The missing launchers include three 88 mm anti-tank weapons, which can be used to knock out armoured vehicles.
In a written response to a parliamentary question, Sisulu gave details of weapons that had “been stolen or gone missing” from the SANDF over the past three years.
According to a table included in the reply — titled “Firearm losses of the DOD [Department of defence]” — weapon losses during 2009 included:
* five 9mm pistols;
* six 5.56mm rifles;
* seven 7.62mm rifles;
* one 7.70mm rifle;
* six 0.22 (inch) rifles;
* four 60mm mortars;
* one 81mm mortar;
* three 88mm rocket launchers;
* two 40mm rocket launchers; and
* one 70mm rocket launcher.
The table did not indicate whether the stolen or missing launchers and mortars included rockets and shells. The losses were “alarming”, Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald, who posed the question to Sisulu, said on Monday.
“It is alarming to see these figures. The fact that 88 mm rocket launchers, which can be used against tanks and vehicles, have been stolen is quite disturbing.
“The question is: What do those who have these weapons want to use them for? What will people do with these rocket launchers?” Groenewald said the reply also showed a total of 87 7.62mm rifles and 47 5.56mm rifles had been stolen from the SANDF since 2007.
“If we look at cash-in-transit heists, these are exactly the sort of weapons criminals use.” He said an investigation was needed to see if this was the case, and blamed the weapon losses on “poor management and control” in the SANDF.
In her reply, Sisulu said “all possible physical measures” were in place to secure weapons in SANDF storage.
“With regard to losses, regular inspections are done as part of unit standing orders to effectively verify and control weapons.
“Stock verification is done on a regular basis to ensure compliance with requirements of policy and a central fire arms control register is kept and verified with the [SA Police Service] fire arms control register as a measure to control losses,” she said.
Jane’s Defence Weekly correspondent Helmut Heitman told Sapa the 40mm rocket launchers were probably in fact grenade launchers, and were the most worrisome of the missing weapons. “The grenades are still in production,” he said.
The 88mm rocket launchers on the list of missing weapons probably referred to the “old 3 1/2-inch bazooka”, which had long been out of service.
“I suspect these were grabbed as souvenirs,” he said.
The ammunition for such bazookas was no longer manufactured, but the weapon was capable, in the hands of someone who knew what they were doing, of “blowing up a car or knocking a hole through a wall”. Heitman said the 70mm rocket launcher, as described in the table, baffled him.
“The only 70mm part I can think of is the rocket launch tube on the Rooivalk helicopter,” he said.
In her written reply, Sisulu said she was not prepared to make a statement on the missing weapons. Heitman said SANDF ammunition and weapons stores were “pretty highly controlled”.
“The problem is probably at a unit level. They [the SANDF] are supposed to have tight control, but some stuff does go missing. We’re not among the worst in the world.
“Over the past 15 years, we’ve had more stuff gone missing than we should have,” he said.