SAPS IN CRISIS
‘An unmitigated firearms crisis’ — Parliament hears cops are firing blanks on proper firearm control
The police’s Central Firearm Registry, meant to crack down on illegal guns, has for years been a problem — this as shootings and assassinations persist. Now Parliament has heard that its operations are still far below standard, and police aren’t properly tracking ammunition sales.
South Africa’s police officers may be willingly working with criminals to get their hands on guns — the poor state of the country’s Central Firearm Registry (CFR), which has for years been a problem, suggests this.
The CFR was discussed during a police committee meeting in Parliament on Wednesday 3 May.
During the discussions, an exceptionally worrying picture of the registry, which is meant to prevent the smuggling of illegal firearms and improve control of legally owned firearms, emerged.
This comes after the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime last month released a report, The Business of Killing: Assassinations in South Africa, that said that not a week goes by without an assassination in this country.
There have recently also been several high-profile shootings — in one of those incidents, activist Loyiso Nkohla was gunned down in Philippi, Cape Town, about two weeks ago.
‘No proper firearm controls’
During Wednesday’s meeting in Parliament, some of the key CFR factors focused on included how its systems were not fully electronic and how the South African Police Service (SAPS) had not adhered to a court judgment handed down in 2019 that gave it a deadline of four years to sort out the digitisation of its records.
While members of the police committee were critical of the state of the CFR, cop bosses tried to play down the situation.
Police committee chairperson Tina Joemat-Pettersson was clearly frustrated.
“We do not have proper firearm controls,” she remarked at one point.
Joemat-Pettersson said crime could not be adequately fought without the thorough monitoring of firearms.
She said if the CFR was not improving and performing its work thoroughly, police bosses should be upfront and tell the country and President Cyril Ramaphosa that “we do not have proper controls over firearms and we do not hope to have that in the next year”.
During the meeting, Martin Hood, an attorney working in the firearms arena, gave a presentation on the CFR.
He said there had been a “complete breakdown in communication” between the CFR’s management and entities involved in firearms use.
The CFR, he said, had also made unilateral policy changes, but those were not being applied across the board.
For example, Hood said that serial numbers were now required on barrels, but that importers of firearms had not been told this and that the CFR itself was issuing import permits for firearms without serial numbers on the barrels.
Hood also referred to a 2019 court order relating to the CFR’s lack of electronic connectivity.
He explained that the SAPS was given four years to sort out the issue but had not complied with that.
Manual ammo records
The SAPS could therefore be in contempt of court.
Hood said that police still recorded the sale of ammunition manually and not electronically.
This meant that police were not tracking the sales in a way that enabled them to compare the amount of ammunition sold with the rate of crime in specific areas.
In response to the court matter relating to electronic records, National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola told Parliament that the State Information Technology Agency awarded a contract in relation to that on 5 April 2023.
He reassured the police committee that “we do have a CFR in the country.”
But Masemola added a disclaimer: “We do acknowledge we have not yet reached the desired level.”
Corruption and ‘unmitigated crisis’
The DA’s shadow police minister, Andrew Whitfield, earlier during the meeting, had a much more extreme view of the CFR situation — he described it as “an unmitigated crisis”.
Whitfield said the state of the CFR pointed to “the nexus of the trade of illegal firearms” and corruption.
Police corruption relating to the CFR has before been flagged.
Daily Maverick has previously detailed how deep-rooted the problem of firearms being smuggled via SAPS members is.
A related case that is set to develop involves a potential class action against Police Minister Bheki Cele — a group of Western Cape families of those murdered with cop-smuggled firearms, as well as survivors of such crimes, are taking him to court and want to be compensated.
Stop passing the buck
Meanwhile, it previously emerged in Parliament that the building the CFR was based in — the Veritas building in Tshwane — “had been disqualified for human occupation.”
The CFR, therefore, needed to move to another building, Telkom Towers.
Parliament had heard that the SAPS was heavily reliant on the National Department of Public Works and Infrastructure in relation to the CFR’s location.
This was much like the SAPS was reliant on the State Information Technology Agency when it came to modernising its record keeping.
During Wednesday’s police committee meeting, Joemat-Pettersson said she wanted to hear from the SAPS directly on what it — and not the public works department and technology agency — was doing to remedy problems. DM