South Africa


Malmesbury arms cache case involving former German citizen postponed

Malmesbury arms cache case involving former German citizen postponed
Ammo confiscated from a former German citizen at a storeroom near Malmesbury. (Photo: SAPS)

Police are investigating the origin of 44 firearms, huge quantities of ammunition, gunpowder and other weapons discovered in a locked warehouse in an industrial area in Malmesbury. A former German citizen was arrested and part of the probe will look into whether the cache was destined for gang-infested areas of Cape Town.

On Monday, 62-year-old Thomas Helmut Herbert Henke, who lives in the Tiervlei area near Malmesbury, briefly appeared in the Malmesbury Magistrates’ Court on charges of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition.

Proceedings were postponed to 3 March to allow a private lawyer to join the case. The matter will then again be postponed to allow the new lawyer time to consult with the client and prepare for a possible bail application.

The charges stem from an arms cache that included rifles, 9mm pistols and ammunition, discovered by police on 16 February inside a locked warehouse in an industrial area in Malmesbury.

Western Cape Police Oversight and Community Safety MEC Reagan Allen says members of the police K-9 Unit have been threatened since the bust. On Thursday, a local community leader told Daily Maverick the arms appeared to be destined for gang-ravaged areas of Cape Town and that the bust had infuriated gang kingpins.

Western Cape police commissioner Thembisile Patekile said information led police to the locked warehouse. 

On 17 February, during the release of the quarterly crime statistics, Police Minister Bheki Cele said: “Police started counting the bullets on Thursday night around 11pm and on Friday … were still counting.”

The proliferation of firearms and ammunition in South Africa continues to worry authorities. The gravity and scope of this problem became clear in 2016, following the arrest of former police colonel Chris Prinsloo, who sold confiscated guns destined for destruction to gangsters. He was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 2016 on more than 20 charges of racketeering, corruption and money laundering. He was paroled in April 2020.

The web widened to include a Vereeniging arms dealer facing trial for allegedly trafficking police guns to gangs. In February 2021, the Western Cape High court ordered that arms dealer Alan Raves stand trial with Cape Town businessman Irshaad Laher on charges of supplying stolen police firearms to gangs.

According to court documents, investigators believe 1,066 murders were carried out using about 888 stolen firearms between 2010 and 2014, and at least 261 children were murdered or wounded between 2010 and 2016 as a result of the supply of weapons to gangs.

Elaborating on the guns and ammunition discovered in Malmesbury, Patekile said a police contingent consisting of crime scene experts, organised crime and Hawks detectives, firearms and explosives experts, and local police scoured the scene for two days.

Police confiscated ammo from a former German citizen at a storeroom near Malmesbury. (Photo: SAPS)

Some of the ammo confiscated from a former German citizen at a storeroom near Malmesbury. (Photo: SAPS)

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The following was found and booked in as evidence:

  • 44 firearms (nine rifles, handguns, a cannon and pistols).
  • 11 firearm parts (considered firearms in terms of the Firearms Control Act).
  • Two full LDV loads of an assortment of rounds of ammunition.
  • Substantial quantities of gunpowder.
  • Numerous boxes used for storage of firearm magazines.

“The origin of the firearms, ammunition and gunpowder is the subject of the police investigation, with investigators setting their sights on other premises in the vicinity.

“As the investigation continues, the possibility of further arrests being affected cannot be ruled out,” he said.

Cele underlined that the police would continue to intensify operations to find and remove illegal firearms and ammunition, while legislated intervention in the amendment to the Firearms Control Act to address the availability of guns in communities is under way.

On 13 February, national police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said police have in the last 12 months removed 65,519 firearms from circulation.

Last year, the Civilian Secretariat for Police published the controversial Firearms Control Amendment Bill, inviting public input. Gun Free SA director Adèle Kirsten says close to 120,000 public submissions were made opposing the bill – most of the opposition is for clause 15, which repeals the sections of the current act that allow civilians to apply for gun licences for self-defence.

On Monday, strategic adviser at Gun Free South Africa and former head of detectives in the Western Cape Jeremy Vearey told Daily Maverick that people should buy their ammunition from registered gun shops and not on the street.

“A few years ago, the SAPS [SA Police Service] apprehended a woman in Manenberg who was loading rounds and selling them to the Hard Livings gang. The current intervention in the amendment to the Firearms Control Act is to stop illicit dealing of guns and ammunition, and pressure must be applied on the government to pass it through,” Vearey said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Bruce Anderson says:

    Do I read this correctly? A police colonel (senior police officer) sold guns, destined for destruction by the police, to gangsters (and no doubt used in killings), was given a 20 year sentence in 2016 and gets parole in April 2020. Maximum jail time 4 years and 4 months (probably less).
    Given the circumstances, 20 years without parole, would barely have been enough.
    Something stinks here.

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