While not in its area of responsibility, Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) deemed the theft of more than a million rounds of ammunition during last month’s civil unrest worthy of questions in the national security interest.
Part of the committee’s report on the Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal briefings during a recent oversight visit indicates during looting in Ethekwini (the wider metropolitan area including Durban) during the second week of July, nearly 1.5 million rounds of ammunition was stolen.
Efforts to obtain “further clarity” on the stolen ammunition include the JSCD being told police were approached by a private security company which moved a container of ammunition, mostly 9 mm rounds as well as .38 and .44 calibre bullets, from the east coast city’s harbour to a holding facility in Mobeni where looters struck.
“The original movement of the container from the harbour is under investigation as it was explained police initially refused the movement from a Transnet holding facility to a private warehouse. Police were under the impression the ammunition was with Transnet and are conducting an investigation into the parties responsible for giving permission for the container to be moved,” according to the adopted JSCD report.
Its involvement with the ammunition theft finishes with a reported comment by Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who attended at least some of the national defence force and police briefings that formed the major component of the oversight visit.
She is quoted as saying “KwaZulu-Natal is a province with a proliferation of small arms and perhaps this period offers an opportunity to address the high levels of small arms in this province”.
The ammunition was imported from Brazil (apparently ammunition manufacturer Companhia Brasileira de Cartuchos) for a private sector buyer (believed to be outdoor and sporting goods company Formalito) and not the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) as some media initially reported. The shipment involved 800 000 rounds of 9 mm ammunition, and several hundred thousand rounds of .38, .32, .44, .45, .357 and .40 calibre ammunition.
Pretoria headquartered Institute for Security Studies (ISS) said some ammunition taken during the Durban theft “was probably already used” in criminal acts elsewhere in the country.
News24 reported Police Minister Bheki Cele as saying, days after the theft was made public, police recovered 10 000 rounds “thought to have originated from the (stolen) container”.
Questions about how the ammunition, weighing over 14 tons, was taken from the container and moved without any intervention by either police or private security abound. Other reports have it the ammunition theft is a Hawks (Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation) responsibility.
Police Minister Bheki Cele this week said the police picked up the container containing the ammunition in the harbour but declined it entry early in July. “When the incident happened during looting at Umbilo we discovered ammunition there. When we inspected where the ammunition came from, we found the same container we declined entry into the country. We then registered a case and it is being investigated to determine who authorised the release of the container from the port,” he said.
KwaZulu-Natal Police Commissioner, Lieutenant-General Nhlanhla Mkhwanazi, said there are two cases registered one with the Hawks and the other with police regarding the container.