Questions raised about SANDF, Correctional Services and police weapons security

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Freedom Front Plus (FF+) leader Pieter Groenewald maintains South African government entities ranging from the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) through to the police service and the Department of Justice and Correctional Services do not give serious attention to stolen firearms.

In his first public utterance of the year, Groenewald has it “preventative measures” employed by Minister Thandi Modise’s Department of Defence (DoD) to keep firearms safe are “mainly focussed on repairing broken fences and intensifying fence security”. This, he said “does very little” to prevent the loss and theft of firearms and ammunition.

The former Commando officer does not refer specifically to the theft of assault rifles and pistols from an SA Army Engineer Formation base in Lyttelton, Centurion, in 2019. The matter was addressed by SANDF Chief General Rudzani Maphwanya during a December briefing on the existence of “death squads” in the force, apparently used to track down the stolen weapons. The briefing was in response to allegations raised by the Cape Town-based non-profit organisation (NPO) Open Secrets that SANDF elements were kidnapping, torturing, and killing suspects.

Speaking from a prepared statement, the top man in the national defence force said the assault rifles and pistols stolen from Lyttelton in 2019 had been recovered. He went on to say the Tek base theft and an alleged abduction incident at the Mall of Africa, in Midrand, Gauteng Province, were both matters before court and the SANDF “cannot comment”.

Research undertaken by the FF+ has it 42 firearms were stolen from the SANDF between the 2019 financial year and the end of 2023. “Alarming is 33 are R1 and R4 assault rifles and that over three thousand rounds of ammunition for them was also stolen.”

FF+ researchers established “only five” SANDF personnel were charged in connection with the remainder of national defence force weapons theft cases still “unfinalised and prosecution not instituted”.

Over the same period, Minister Ronald Lamola’s Justice and Correctional Services lost or had 18 handguns and 295 rounds of ammunition stolen. “Two members were dismissed with the rest either warned or forfeited, at most, a month’s salary,” the Groenewald statement reads in part.

“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,” Groenewald stated, noting that by 2016, some of the 2 000 stolen firearms in South Africa had been linked to the deaths of 89 children while another 170 children were wounded by them.

“While there is immense pressure on lawful, private firearm ownership, government itself is a major source of firearms supply to criminals and is failing to address the matter with the seriousness it deserves,” Groenewald stated. “The situation can be turned around quickly if government would just tackle it with the same zeal as it demonstrates in its efforts to criminalise lawful, private firearm ownership.”