SAPS, UNLOADED

While SA cops have guns, ammunition stream has run dry

By Suné Payne 21 November 2019
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Illustration: Bullet casings found during the clean-up of a site of recent street battles are pictured near Independence Square in Kiev
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The lives of already beleaguered members of the South African Police Service are being put at further risk because of ongoing problems with the procurement of ammunition.

The alarm about lack of ammunition for police was sounded as far back as 2017 when crucial firearms training for SAPS members was cancelled in the Eastern Cape as well as the East Rand. Without bullets, cops cannot complete mandatory firearms proficiency training and without the training, they cannot carry loaded weapons. This is not only a provincial issue, but a nationwide crisis.

This is the policing situation in South Africa, a country with one of the highest violent crime rates in the world.

While SAPS national spokesperson Brigadier Vish Naidoo told Daily Maverick the “ammo crisis” had been resolved towards the end of October 2019, an 8 November communication from Lieutenant-General Francinah Vuma, Deputy National Commissioner for Asset and Legal Management, suggests otherwise.

Vuma instructed all divisional commissioners and all provincial commissioners, to prioritise “maintenance shooting practices for Police Act Operational Personnel only.”

All Police Act Support Personnel must be excluded from maintenance shooting until further notice.”

In the communication seen by Daily Maverick, Vuma asked the Directorate of Priority Crime Investigation as well as divisional and provincial commissioners across the country “to supply this office with the total number of 9mm ammunition which will become available for the maintenance shooting practice of Police Act Operational Personnel when Support Personnel are excluded from maintenance shooting on 2019-11-12”.

In other words, robbing Peter to arm Paul.

How did the SAPS come to run out of something as basic as ammunition?

According to insiders, the problem is threefold — SAPS at national level miscalculating the budget, Denel’s inability to meet supply needs and SAPS Supply Chain Management’s consistent bungling of tenders, through being roused to action only when an existing contract is about to expire.

Naidoo explained the SAPS tender process to Daily Maverick:

Bids get advertised on the basis of recieval (sic) of a demand from end-user (divisions & components) and demand management. Upon recieval of demand, demand management will finalise the specification and send the demand together with the specification to acquisition management. Acquisition management will conduct a pre-advertisement meeting together with members from demand management and the end-user. Thereafter the tender gets advertised in terms of prescripts in the government tender bulletin and national treasury e-tender bulletin.”

Naidoo also said:

The bid closes 21 days after advertisement, whereby it gets evaluated and thereafter recommendation is made for an award. SAPS are following these prescribed processes in all tenders.”

SAPS did not respond to questions about late tendering, however.

Naidoo told Daily Maverick that millions of rounds of ammunition were expected to be delivered to SAPS mid-November. This follows the first shipment at the beginning of November.

He admitted there were “challenges” with regard to maintenance shooting exercises, but said “in terms of operational use, there is no shortage, there is adequate supply of ammunition”.

According to the Firearms Control Act, police personnel are required to “complete the prescribed training and test before he or she can be issued with a firearm”.

Despite Naidoo’s claim that the ammunition crisis had been solved, police unions the Policing and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) and Solidarity said they had not yet been so informed.

Popcru’s spokesperson, Richard Mamabolo, confirmed to Daily Maverick on the outskirts of the union’s congress held recently in Durban in early November that the union had not had any official communication from SAPS on the delivery of ammunition.

No, we have not had such a report… but when we do, we will definitely appreciate it,” he said.

Mamabolo told Daily Maverick that union members’ “lives are in danger until this is resolved”. He said placing an uncertified officer in a dangerous situation posed potential risks to not only the officer on duty, but to communities as well.

If you have not done this, you should not go into the streets,” warned Mamabolo. “Let’s say if they do force you into the field, and it happens that you shoot someone, or some people get hurt, you could be found guilty because you use the firearm when you know you’re not competent.” He told Daily Maverick:

Until we are definitely sure that the matter has been resolved we encourage our members not to go out into the streets while they have not been certified competent to use a firearm.”

Another person who has not heard about the apparent resolution of the ammo crisis is Dr Johan Burger, a consultant for the Justice and Violence Prevention Programme at the Institute for Security Studies. Burger told Daily Maverick:

No, that is not my sense. I hear the police are very defensively claiming that at headquarters.” However, according to his information, this had not yet occurred.

Burger said the repeated problems with the procurement of ammunition was a complex situation and a result of several issues.

This included the inability of arms manufacturer Denel to provide enough ammunition for SAPS personnel, the theft of police ammunition and negligence on the part of SAPS for allowing the crisis to occur in the first place.

Burger stressed to Daily Maverick that the situation could be resolved if SAPS was made accountable and investigated glitches in the system.

The situation can be turned around once there is a concerted effort.”

In addition to Burger, Popcru and Solidarity being in the dark about the apparent resolution of the ammunition shortage, Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald told Daily Maverick, “this is news to me”.

Groenewald had initially posed questions to Police Minister Bheki Cele about the crisis. In response to one of his queries, SAPS confirmed 327 training courses had been either postponed or cancelled in 2019.

They shouldn’t have an ammunition crisis in the first place,” said Groenewald. This was “totally unacceptable due to a lack of proper discipline”.

If the SAPS had not “lost” about 9.5 million rounds of ammunition over six years it would not be saddled with the problem in the first place, said Groenewald. DM

Additional reporting by Marianne Thamm.

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