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‘We are tired of standing over open graves’ — class action lawsuit takes aim at cop-smuggled gun crimes

‘We are tired of standing over open graves’ — class action lawsuit takes aim at cop-smuggled gun crimes
Marche Karelse of Manenberg weeps as she explains she is afraid every time she goes home as gun violence is so rife in the Cape Town suburb of Manenberg where she lives. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

A class action lawsuit application, for Western Cape families of those murdered and wounded with cop-smuggled firearms, has been officially lodged in a court. During a briefing about it on Wednesday, countless stories of grief and fear were shared.

“As he came out the gate, he saw this guy being shot and killed and then he tried to run. So, then, they shot him in the arm. 

“And then as he tried to carry on running, they shot in him in his head to make sure that he died.”

These are the words of Melanie Kiel, whose son Dudley Richards was murdered in the Cape Town suburb of Mitchells Plain in 2013 when he was 17 years old.

It is believed a firearm, one of roughly 2,000 that were smuggled from cops to gangsters, was used to kill him.

cop-smuggled firearms, Melanie Kiel

Melanie Kiel (left) wept as she said her son Dudley was murdered in a shooting in 2013, while Rashied Andrews said she was a lucky mother because her son survived a shooting. It is believed firearms that cops smuggled to gangsters were used in both incidents. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Kiel is now among nine individuals who are part of a freshly instituted class action lawsuit against the South African Police Service (SAPS).

The case may grow to include more individuals.

DM168 previously reported that a group of Western Cape families of those murdered with cop-smuggled firearms, as well as survivors of such crimes, want compensation for what they have been through.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Bullet points – this is what drove victims of cop-smuggled firearms to launch a lawsuit against police

On Tuesday 9 May documents to apply for certification of the class action were lodged in the Western Cape high court, and on 10 May the media was briefed on the legal proceedings which are now official.

The briefing took place at the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in Cape Town.

cop-smuggled firearms

Mothers and fathers who have lost loved ones to gun violence at the Gun Free media briefing at the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in District Six. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

‘We must prevent more child murders’

It was during the briefing that Kiel, often pausing to wipe tears from her eyes, spoke of the trauma her family experienced following her son’s murder.

“I want some closure. It’s totally unfair… for someone’s life to be taken just like that and nothing happens,” she said.

Kiel added that she joined the class action “to prevent other people’s children to lose out on their lives”.

Several other mothers and residents from various Cape Town suburbs shared the trauma they continued going through as gun violence took place around them.

Group action

Gun Free South Africa (GFSA) is driving class action proceedings, in which damages will be sought from Police Minister Bheki Cele.

National police commissioner Fannie Masemola and provincial cop bosses are also cited as respondents in the case.

Daily Maverick sent Cele’s spokesperson a query asking for a response to the class action proceedings but was referred to the SAPS.

National police spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said: “The notice of the intended class action was received and at this stage, we haven’t been served with the class action application and thus we cannot comment until we’re served with the application. We first have to assess the matter and decide on a way forward.”

Law firm Norton Rose Fulbright is acting pro bono and supporting the individuals and families who are part of the class action process.

Others could still join the lawsuit.

Yolande Baker and Adele Kirsten, cop-smuggled firearms

Yolande Baker and Adele Kirsten of Gun Free South Africa talk about a class action lawsuit representing Western Cape families of those murdered and wounded with cop-smuggled firearms. It is believed the number of applicants in the case may grow. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Murdered and maimed

Aside from Kiel, the other applicants in the case are:

  • Evenlyn Davids, the legal guardian of Liam Davids who was seven when he was wounded in the back in Hanover Park in 2012;
  • Denise Mentor, the legal guardian of Leanna van Wyk, who was six when she survived being shot in the head in Hanover Park in 2012.
  • Dianne and Andre Cornelius whose son Dillon was killed in a shooting in Manenberg in 2013;
  • Niezaam Cupido who was wounded in a shooting in Mitchells Plain in 2013;
  • Simone Julies whose two sons Mogamat Nazeer and Mogamat Moeneer were wounded in Mitchells Plain in 2014;
  • Mansoer Eksteen who was wounded in Manenberg in 2014 and whose 71-year-old mother Shamiela was killed in the same shooting. It is believed his brother Lutfie Eksteen, a police officer in the Western Cape, who was part of an anti-gang crackdown at the time, was the target of the shooting. This would mean that a firearm smuggled from police officers to gangsters was meant to have been used on a fellow officer; and
  • Natalie Dirks whose son Lukas was killed in Mitchells Plain in 2015.

One of South Africa’s biggest-ever firearm smuggling investigations codenamed Project Impi, is at the core of the class action proceedings.

Project Impi led to former policeman Chris Prinsloo’s conviction seven years ago for smuggling firearms, that police were meant to destroy, to individuals who then channelled the firearms to criminals including gangsters.

Certain cop investigators, including former policeman Jeremy Vearey who was present at Wednesday’s briefing, previously alleged Project Impi was derailed on the orders of cop bosses.

Jeremy Vearey

Former axed head of Western Cape detectives, Major General Jeremy Vearey at the Gun Free media briefing at the Desmond & Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation in District Six. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

Cop-smuggled guns, according to Project Impi investigations, had allegedly resulted in the shooting of 261 children (according to GFSA, 187 children were killed), 1,666 murders and 1,403 attempted murders, from 2010 to 2016.

It was heard during Wednesday’s class action lawsuit briefing that these figures are probably much higher by now and more than 1,000 firearms identified during Project Impi investigations had not been traced, meaning they could still be with criminals.

Open graves and bullet-riddled bodies

During the briefing, some families who were applicants in the case were present, as were others who were not part of the class action, but who were also dealing with trauma caused by illegal firearms.

Lynn Phillips, secretary of the Cape Flats Safety Forum, said action was needed to get the SAPS to crack down harder on illegal firearms.

“We’ve been moaning and groaning since 2002 about the firearms on the Cape Flats,” she said.

“We are tired of standing over an open grave.”

In one month, Phillips added, there were 20 murders in the suburb of Mitchells Plain.

Lynn Phillips

Lynn Phillips, secretary of the Cape Flats Safety Forum, speaks at a media briefing in Cape Town on 10 May 2023 about a class action lawsuit that a group of residents in the Western Cape, who have been affected by crimes carried out with firearms smuggled by cops, are pushing against the South African Police Service. (Photo: Brenton Geach)

‘People are dying, children are dying’

Marche Karelse, 18, a volunteer with Alcardo Andrews Foundation, that was set up Hanover Park in 2015 after Andrews was killed in gang violence, wept as she explained that on Monday afternoon, when she arrived home, she realised she “couldn’t enter the gate because there was a body”.

She was not sure why the body was there or what had happened.

“The week before that I saw a man with a gun… children were running,” Karelse said, as she cried.

“People are dying. Children are dying. We are seeing the perpetrators every day with guns in their hands. I feel like giving up. But I just need to stay strong for the sake of our mothers [who are] losing children.”

‘Corruption that kills’

Earlier during the briefing, GFSA’s director Adele Kirsten said the point of the class action proceedings was to hold the state accountable for loss, pain, suffering and trauma inflicted on those directly, or indirectly, affected by firearms that were smuggled via the Prinsloo network.

She said the class action proceedings should not come as a surprise to SAPS bosses and others in the state.

Kirsten said back in 2016 already the state was made aware that they could be held liable for crimes carried out with the firearms.

“Yet it did nothing,” she said.

GFSA’s chair Yolande Baker said the collusion that led to firearms leaking from the police to criminals was fatal.

“This corruption kills,” she said. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    I agree totally with the lawsuit(for close to 30 years I experienced the heartache of families on the cape flats,the gangs must be destroyed, bought under control. 1st good thing GFSA ever did.I will never support GFSA ,I support the class action because the state isn’t foingbits work

  • R S says:

    It’s sad that it’s come to this. We must get rid of this useless ANC government.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    Start with Cele. If he can’t account or even attempt to atone, get rid of him. What an utter waste of space.

  • Pam Crowsley Crowsley says:

    I attended this Event as I lost my son and brother at the hands of people with guns. Words cannot express the utter devastation and sadness of witnessing a room full of grieving mothers and families talking about how their children who died as a result of these confiscated guns coming back into the hands of gangsters. There were also other parents who had lost a child through firearm violence whether it had been a ‘Prinsloo’ gun or another illegal source. As was also said the Class Action was not all about the money but about the failings of SAPS. The lack of protection and resulting fear felt in the streets on a daily basis. Then when a shooting has occurred and a Case has been opened the common thread was that there was little or no investigation and contact with the bereaved families. This has left them struggling with no consequences from their loss and no closure.
    Gun Free is the only organisation to have exposed what has been going on and supported the communities. They are the only voice against the proliferation of firearms which has resulted in over 30 people dying and over 160 people inured daily. What we witnessed yesterday is the tip of the iceberg in the grief and sorrow felt everyday by South African families. I support you Gun Free and all the wonderful community members who are striving for a safer South Africa.

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