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A fire hazard plus ‘thousands’ of firearm licence fraud suspects – SA’s gun control chaos

A fire hazard plus ‘thousands’ of firearm licence fraud suspects – SA’s gun control chaos
From left: Piles of documents at the Central Firearms Registry. (Photo: Twitter / @andrewhitfield) | Nafiz Modack. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jaco Marais) | Unsplash)

Parliament recently heard that documents stored at the Central Firearm Registry are a fire hazard. This is while a judgment in a court case brought by suspected underworld figure Nafiz Modack has revealed the extent of suspected gun licence fraud in South Africa.

An accumulation of paperwork at the police’s Central Firearm Registry (CFR) relating to illegal guns has elevated the risk of fire.

On top of that, there are “thousands of suspects nationwide involved in fraud on a grand scale relating to the unlawful issuing of firearm licences”.

Poor conditions at the CFR – including an unsafe building and the slow move from manual to digital record-keeping – are nothing new.

And while there has been an improvement since 2021, the CFR is still not functioning optimally.

The state of the CFR, along with information about firearm licence fraud that surfaced in a recent court judgment – and concerns about private security and cops smuggling guns to criminals – creates an exceptionally worrying picture of South Africa’s gun controls.

This is while gun crimes – including assassinations – continue unabated.

In terms of the CFR, the South African Police Service’s (SAPS) 2021/22 annual report says it is meant to issue licences and “has a key role to play in the reduction of the availability of illegal firearms”.

On 3 May, Parliament’s police committee heard that the CFR situation was “an unmitigated crisis”.

Dysfunction and ‘criminal collaboration’

Minutes of that meeting also said: “Members [of the committee] further expressed that in this dysfunctional environment, it is very clear that SAPS is collaborating, either willingly or unwillingly, with the criminal networks that receive these firearms in our communities.”

Before that, it emerged the Veritas building in Tshwane, where the CFR was housed, “had been disqualified for human occupation” in 2019.

Read more in Daily Maverick: In SAPS veritas — how the ‘dangerous’ police firearms control offices symbolise a service in crisis

The CFR was meant to have moved to the Annex Building in the Telkom Towers complex, also in Tshwane, on 30 October 2021. This never happened.

It has since emerged that the Telkom Towers premises are expected to be ready for occupation only in October this year.

Parliament’s police committee visited the CFR in May 2021, and, according to a statement issued by Parliament in May this year, witnessed “extremely dissatisfying conditions at the Veritas building” which had “been declared unsafe for human occupation”.

“Also,” the statement said, “there was inadequate filing space, with firearms licence applications stored in hallways”.

‘Marked improvement’

In mid-May this year, the police committee again visited the CFR and found there was a “marked improvement in general conditions and document filing”.

But Parliament’s statement said: “The committee urged SAPS and the State Information Technology Agency to find solutions to challenges experienced in the procurement of the new firearms control system, which will enable electronic capturing and digitisation of firearms applications.

“The committee remains of the view that the paper-based system is outdated and can lead to misplacement of certain documents, thereby delaying applications.”

‘Fire hazard’

On Wednesday, the police committee met once again to discuss recently released crime statistics.

At the start of the meeting, issues that had previously cropped up were briefly discussed, including the matter of the CFR.

Based on its site visit to the CFR, members of the police committee had:

  • Questioned why the Veritas building was still occupied when it was previously flagged as unsuitable. (A Parliamentary press statement about the May 2023 CFR visit said the police committee “reiterated its call for the SAPS to apply to take over infrastructure maintenance and development from the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure… due to continuous delays in maintenance and infrastructure development within the police portfolio”.)
  • Expressed concern “about the continued fire hazard posed by the storage of documents at the Veritas building and questioned what would happen if a fire was to break out”.
  • Recommended that “the digitisation of firearm applications must be fast-tracked while complying meticulously with all legislative prescripts”.
  • Asked why no ammunition was destroyed in the 2021/22 financial year.
  • Expressed concern “about the high number of firearm applications received from the private security industry”.

Private security

Private security, especially geared towards nightclubs in South Africa’s gangsterism capital, the Western Cape, had previously been a focus in various court cases in the province.

Through those court cases, it emerged the State believed that two main rival groups were vying for control of security at some Cape Town venues.

Read more in Daily Maverick: The Enforcers – Inside Cape Town’s Deadly Nightclub Battles

Allegations had also emerged that certain figures were, under the guise of being involved in private security, getting hold of firearms and using them for other reasons.

This is where alleged organised crime kingpin Nafiz Modack fits in.

Modack, who has been in custody since his arrest in April 2021, allegedly headed one of the groups hellbent on taking control of nightclub security in Cape Town.

He had previously been arrested and charged in an extortion case relating to that, but was acquitted.

Accused takes on cops

A few years ago, in 2019, Modack took action in the Western Cape High Court in an effort to prevent certain police officers from acting against him.

The officers included Andre Lincoln, the retired former head of the anti-gang unit; Jeremy Vearey, who was controversially fired from the police in 2021, and Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear, who was assassinated in 2020.

Modack is now an accused in the Kinnear murder case.

The cops he tried to bar from acting against him were involved in various underworld investigations, including how police officers were allegedly linked to gun smuggling and fraudulent firearm licences.

In the high court application Modack lodged against the cops, a judgment that effectively found against him was delivered on 4 May this year.

‘Thousands of suspects’

The security industry and firearm issues cropped up in the court case.

The judgment said Modack had claimed the police had been “harassing [him] whilst he has lawfully been acting as a consultant to certain security businesses, and whilst he has been in lawful possession of firearms”.

Modack also claimed that “in his interaction with those members of SAPS it has become clear that some of [them] are biased, and that others are corrupt”.

However, in responses from the police officers, the extent of the firearm licence fraud situation in the country emerged.

The judgment stated the police officers, in their answering affidavits, had said that: “Far from being singled out as alleged, [Modack] was, and is, just one of several parties involved in, or suspected to be involved in, the extortion and intimidation of businesses, particularly restaurants, pubs and nightclubs.

“This state of affairs has given rise to a spate of violence, including murders. [Modack] was also one of thousands of suspects nationwide involved in fraud on a grand scale relating to the unlawful issuing of firearms licences.”

Case withdrawn

Apart from the Kinnear murder charges he faces, Modack is also an accused in a VAT fraud case involving R46-million. He also previously faced charges in connection with fraudulent gun licences.

It was alleged police officers had been involved in creating fraudulent licences for suspects who did not follow the proper procedures entitling them to the documents.

Modack had been one of about 16 suspects, some of them police officers, arrested in 2020. However, the case, which had been unfolding in Gauteng, was provisionally withdrawn at the end of April this year.

This means that charges could still be reinstated.

According to National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Phindi Mjonondwane, the matter was provisionally withdrawn “pending the finalisation of the process to acquire [a] racketeering certificate”.

That would enable a racketeering case to be prosecuted.

Class action case

Gun licence issues aside, Daily Maverick has previously reported extensively on the deeply rooted problem of firearms moving from police officers to criminals.

On 10 May 2023, a class action lawsuit involving Western Cape families of people killed and wounded with police-smuggled firearms, and the survivors of such crimes, was launched.

Gun Free South Africa is driving the case and damages will be sought from Police Minister Bheki Cele and other top-ranking police figures.

At the core of the class action is one of South Africa’s biggest firearm smuggling investigations, codenamed Project Impi.

Project Impi led to former policeman Chris Prinsloo’s conviction seven years ago for smuggling firearms that police were meant to have destroyed. The guns were sold to individuals who then channelled them to criminals, including gang members.

The class action involves nine applicants and more may still join.

A spinoff case from Project Impi involved the arrest of a suspected gang boss, some of his relatives and three CFR cops who had allegedly created fraudulent firearm licences for them. DM


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