It took just short of a week for the combined skills of the SA Police Service and the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI), better known as the Hawks, to make a breakthrough in the theft of R5 assault rifles from a Western Cape infantry unit.
Francois Beukman, chairman of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police, said: “The speed with which the police and Hawks moved in apprehending the alleged perpetrator of this serious crime is commendable”.
Police reportedly arrested a 40-year-old former SA National Defence Force (SANDF) member in Khayelitsha, where six assault rifles and ammunition were stolen from 9 SA Infantry Battalion on Good Friday. Beukman said the man was “alleged to have been among those who robbed the military base”.
At the time of publication no statement had been issued by the SA National Defence Force’s (SANDF’s) Directorate Corporate Communications on the robbery but another parliamentary committee – the Portfolio Committee on Defence and Military Veterans – earlier this week called for an urgent review of security at all military bases across the country to ensure they meet the required standards. Committee chairman Malusi Motimele also indicated a meeting would be urgently convened with the Department of Defence (DoD) to “ascertain measures are put in place to reverse these worrying incidents”.
He was referring to the theft from 9 SAI as well as the theft of assault rifles, grenades and machineguns from the SA Navy armoury at Simon’s Town last July.
Another theft of military weapons – this time from Tempe military base outside Bloemfontein in August 2015 – also made waves in the National Assembly when Freedom Front Plus (FF+) MP and now party leader Pieter Groenewald posed a question about the incident to Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula. He was told by her a board of enquiry was set up and found the loss of weapons and equipment could be attributed to negligence, a lack of discipline and failure to obey orders and instructions.
The men on guard duty at the main entrance to the base were apparently asleep on duty when they were attacked, tied up with their own bootlaces and robbed of R5 assault rifles and other equipment, including radios.
SANDF Chief, General Solly Shoke, called the Tempe robbery “a disgrace”.
Defence analyst Helmoed Romer Heitman noted that such incidents are not a new phenomenon and happen around the world as well. “Let us not forget that this happened to the old SADF too – one example being when the guard at Gen Liebenberg’s home had his rifle stolen; another that I recall involved two sentries in the Tempe base who left their rifles in the guard hut and went visiting, the rifles not surprisingly disappearing.
“And it happens to many other – probably most – armed forces: The US Army has had weapons stolen from bases and armouries in Germany and in the US; the British Army has had weapons stolen from unit armouries and so on.
“This sort of thing should not happen; there should be an investigation followed by courts martial if necessary, and security measures should be reviewed and improved, including the ‘rules of engagement’ for sentries; but let us not lose sight of reality; this sort of thing happens in most armies. We are not unique,” Heitman said.