The situation at Naval Base Simon’s Town is critical and an investigation, in the interests of every dedicated sailor – and South Africa – is overdue, according to the Chief Whip of the Western Cape provincial parliament, who was reacting to the theft of arms and ammunition from the base.
Firearms, ammunition and hand grenades were stolen from six storerooms at base’s armoury. The Hawks are investigating the matter but no arrests have been made so far.
According to The Times, some of the items stolen in the burglary included 77 hand grenades, Uzi submachineguns and R1 assault rifles. A military source told the publication that 12.7 mm and 20 mm weapons as well as explosives may also have been taken, but an audit is being conducted. Another source said four Uzis, 72 grenades and at least one R1 assault rifle were stolen.
Democratic Alliance Chief Whip Mark Wiley maintains in a statement the theft, last weekend, could have been prevented had the (naval) authorities done their duty many months ago when, on several occasions, they had been warned of a climate a lawlessness and decay taking hold in parts of the base.
“This can potentially contaminate the very institution of the Navy, whose primary mission is to protect the country’s coastal sovereignty,” he said adding he was calling for a Commission of Inquiry into the management of the base which, in addition to being fleet headquarters also houses the dockyard and the Institute for Maritime Technology (IMT).
Wiley, who is also the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) constituency head in the area including Simon’s Town, said he had received information from “several reliable sources of alleged criminal behaviour and abuse of power which no armed service can tolerate”.
The allegations include racism, political favouritism and factionalism, interference in functions, breaching of finance and security protocols, unauthorised use of vehicles, theft of equipment and stores, dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming, heritage violations and “alarmingly, allegations of seditious (possibly treasonous) behaviour”.
He said informants did not want to lay charges fearing “intimidation or worse”.
Wiley said his “long association” with South Africa’s military had precluded him for making political mileage out of the issue but he had reported incidents to police and the Hawks, as well as advising his informants to do the same.
“The fact that many of these allegations point to the involvement of officers of high rank, one in particular, indicates a grave situation. It is also alleged that the responsible Minister has tried to protect one or several individuals from being disciplined and overruled a recommendation by the Chief of the Navy to transfer a senior admiral to Pretoria while an investigation was about to happen. This has entrenched a culture of hopelessness, fear and silence,” Wiley said.
He also maintains relationship with the local community – “a navy town” – are strained and at times alienated.
“This cannot continue. People who are privileged to lead our armed services have to be above reproach – morally and professionally. Individuals who tolerate a culture of ill-discipline, contempt for the rule of law, entitlement and empire building have no place in a nation’s military. This is how ‘war lords’ take root,” he said.
Western Cape Community Safety MEC Dan Plato said the theft of firearms from Simon’s Town will impact the safety of local residents as they weapons will likely end up being used by gangsters. He said there were other burglaries at the base in March and April this year.
“The police deny knowledge of these burglaries but we continue to receive information about them and this is the third security breach at the base.”
Earlier this month Afrikaans newspaper Rapport revealed that security contracts for five of the country’s biggest munitions depots had lapse after the military failed to pay security contractors.