According to South Africa’s senior military policeman all the weapons stolen from Tek Base in December last year have been recovered, arrests made, some charges withdrawn and an October court date set for suspects still facing charges.
Following a presentation this week to Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Defence (JSCD) by Rear Admiral (JG) Mokgadi Maphoto, the Provost Marshal of the Military Police Division of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), his civilian superior Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula faced questions from committee members.
She confirmed information in Maphoto’s presentation, including that 18 R4 assault rifles and three 9 mm pistols were stolen from the Centurion military base housing, among others, elements of the SA Army Engineer Formation.
“There was immediate investigation into the incident from the time it occurred in December 2019. This was conducted by a joint investigation team led by the military police supported by the SA Police Service (SAPS) and the Hawks (the SAPS Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation [DPCI],” Johannesburg-based digital daily TimesLive reports Minister Mapisa-Nqakula as telling JSCD members. She reportedly “did not want to go into detail” while indicating “commanders were being held accountable for the break-in as well”.
After the theft, 27SA Army Engineer Formation (SAAEF) personnel were questioned by military police with 12 charged with housebreaking and theft, alternatively, negligent loss of firearms.
On 27 December 2019 the 12 first appeared at a Military Court in Thaba Tshwane. They were denied bail and the matter remanded to 3 January when all accused were granted bail. On 18 August charges against seven suspects were withdrawn and the matter for the remaining five suspects postponed for 12 October 2020.
CCTV footage indicated a uniformed soldier entering the weapons safe on the night of the 21 November 2019. He was identified as Lance Corporal S.B. Taywane of the SAAEF and arrested in February. He confessed to the theft and implicated a Sapper Mongale as his accomplice. Further leads led to the arrest of a Mr Mooketsi; an employee of the Department of Education, on bail for an unrelated armed robbery and found with an R4 rifle and three empty R4 magazines. All R4s and pistols were subsequently recovered.
Kobus Marais, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister and the person who first alerted defence criminal investigation units, including the Military Police Division, to the theft asked the Minister if those in command (at Tek Base) when the theft took place were going to be held accountable.
He is reported as telling her, the Provost Marshal and his committee colleagues “no-one can drive in and out of a (military) base without being searched”. This, according to him, is yet another example of discipline failure in the national defence force which “somehow must be re-established”.
An EFF (Economic Freedom Fighters) MP also criticised the Tek Base weapons theft.
“There is an impression that, in the defence force, there are rogue elements,” Isaac Mafanya said adding had the stolen firearms not been recovered they would have ended up in communities.
According to JSCD chair Cyril Xaba the “repeated” theft of weapons from military bases and facilities undermined the authority of the state.
“It is an affront to all citizens. The more it happens, the more it raises questions as to whether weapons are in fact properly looked after. It questions safekeeping of weapons. We must not wait until another break-in and theft of weapons and then conduct inquiries,” he said asking for assurances there would be no repeats when it came to the theft of weapons from the SANDF.
Mapisa-Nqakula, while not justifying the Tek Base or any other theft, said it happened since South Africa “transitioned to democracy”.
“As people were integrating (into the then newly formed SANDF), people were looting and stealing firearms belonging to the state,” she said adding criminal syndicates were recruiting people to steal firearms and “there is thus collusion” when thefts happen.
The Provost Marshal told the JSCD charges against seven of the 12 suspects arrested in connection with the theft were withdrawn. The remaining five are due to be in court again on 12 October. He did not indicate if the next court appearance would be in a Military Court, sitting in the Thaba Tshwane town hall where previous appearances were, or whether it would be a magistrate’s court.