AFRICAN PEACE MISSION
Revealed: An incomplete list of weapons that were on board the grounded SAA flight in Warsaw
The presidency and SAPS have refused to divulge details to date, but Daily Maverick is in possession of a leaked document detailing some of the weapons carried by the security detail on board the SAA flight that was grounded in Warsaw, Poland, two weeks ago.
A document in Daily Maverick’s possession lists some of the weapons carried by the security detail aboard the SAA airbus A340 flight grounded in Warsaw, Poland.
On the incomplete inventory are R1 and R5 assault rifles, Glock and Heckler & Koch USP 9mm pistols, light machine guns (FN MAGs), as well as sleeping bags, bulletproof vests, tents and water. These are the weapons carried by the South African Police Service Presidential Protection Services (SAPS PPS). The list states it is for aircraft A320, which was the original plane that was secured before the switch to the A340.
The list provides only a partial picture of the armoury of weapons aboard the A340, as South Africa has refused to release specific details.
Partial list of weapons on board SAA airbus A340 flight to Rzeszow, Poland
6 Physical Protection Torch
5 Glock firearms for physical protectors with 2 mags (300 by 9 by 19mm rounds) per firearm (with ZS- RSA)
6 airbus radios physical protection
1 satellite phone (Rzeszow TacHQ)
1 satellite phone (QRF)
5 secure communication devices with local sims
1 CAT R1 with 5 magazines per firearm (20 rounds per mag, total 100 by 7.62mm
3 CAT R5 with 5 magazines per firearm (30 rounds per mag, total 450 by 5.56mm)
4 CAT personal equipment
4 CAT USP pistols, 4 Mags per firearm (240 by 9 by 19 rounds)
4 CAT Airbus radios
1 CAT FN MAG with 1000 rounds (7.62 by 51mm) plus spare barrel
17kg by 138 Ratpacks 300/200/500
1400 by halve litre water bottles
Number of pieces
126 by 300/300/600 = 10kg
69 by 300/500/1000 = 30kg
126 by 200/500/300 = 7kg
13 by 1250/450/300steel trunks = 100kg
20 sleeping bags 400/200 = 1kg
10 tents 200/1500 = 30kg
57 kit bags 300/500/1000 = 50kg
4 by 620/490/353
2 by 400/300/500
126 security personnel
It has been reported that the standoff between Polish officials and members of the SAPS PPS was over the weapons aboard the plane ferrying President Cyril Ramaphosa’s security staff and members of the media. The plane was grounded in Warsaw and was not permitted to proceed to Ukraine and Russia after the Polish said undeclared dangerous goods were on board. Those aboard were stuck on the plane for 24 hours, after which they spent a night in the city of Warsaw before returning to SA.
Ramaphosa was travelling to Ukraine and Russia alongside other African leaders for the African Peace Mission talks two weeks ago, which were aimed at bringing an African resolution to end Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Read more in Daily Maverick: What it felt like to be grounded in Poland on Ramaphosa’s African peace mission
The director of African Defence Review, Darren Olivier, said that there was nothing sinister about the weapons on the incomplete list, but added that the number of personnel deployed – about 100 – to protect Ramaphosa during the mission was excessive.
“The provided list is not entirely complete, as it specifies only the detailed breakdown for the sustainment items and one of the tactical HQs. However, the rest would likely be similar. None of the weapons described here are unusual for the SAPS PPS. The types of personnel and weapons are also about what would be expected for a deployment in a very high-risk area where a rapid extraction is foreseen.
“I disagree with the number of personnel sent and the operational planning of the mission, which are both flawed, but there’s nothing on the list that is suspicious or would support the claim of weapons being smuggled,” he said.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Why was Ramaphosa’s security detail grounded in Poland – pro-Russia perceptions, or underprepared securocrats?
Olivier said that the security personnel included a larger and more heavily armed unit from the South African National Defence Force Special Forces, to augment and provide cover for the Counter-Assault Team and close protection detail in the event of an attack.
“The ‘CAT’ elements refer to the Counter-Assault Team within the SAPS PPS, which appears to be a four-person team in this case and whose primary responsibility is to intervene in the event of an attack on the VIPs and provide time for their escape. For this reason, they are much more heavily armed than the regular protection detail.
“Accordingly, they’re equipped here with an R1 rifle, likely used as a designated marksman or ‘sniper’ role, R5 assault rifles, and an FN MAG light machine gun. The FN MAG, in particular, is a much heavier weapon than any ordinary SAPS unit would use, but not too unusual for similar counter-assault teams around the world,” he explained.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Mission impossible? SAA plane remains grounded following initial premature Polish clearance for take-off
Polish officials said their gripe was with the containers of weapons and other equipment for which Polish ground staff flagged issues with permits and “failure to comply with standard entry procedures”. A brief statement by the country’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that “dangerous goods were on board the plane, which South African representatives did not have permission to bring in. In addition, there were persons on board the aircraft of whose presence the Polish side had not been notified beforehand.”
However, General Wally Rhoode, the head of the SAPS PPS, said all the relevant original documentation was available, with the exception of some documents which were copies.
Although SAPS PPS insists their paperwork was complete and above board, they have not revealed any proof to the public.
Poland’s foreign ministry said that “dangerous goods were on board the plane, which South African representatives did not have permission to bring in. In addition, there were persons on board the aircraft of whose presence the Polish side had not been notified beforehand.”
It added that the Polish government had made every possible effort to prepare for Ramaphosa’s visit to Poland and that the South African government “had been informed of all formalities necessary for the delegation’s entry into Poland and the required transport permits”.
Read Rebecca Davis’s reflection in Daily Maverick: Response to grounding of African Peace Mission plane reveals selective outrage
Daily Maverick’s in-house defence expert John Stupart said that the destructive capability of the weapons on the leaded list was minimal. “In the hands of rogue terrorists on the streets of Warsaw, this would be a major issue. In terms of security and defence, it barely counts as a rounding error.
“Important to note based on that register is that there is no obvious presence of explosives with the small arms (R5, pistols and FN MAG light machine gun), with ammunition being the primary cause for concern. Without the correct paperwork, this would be flagged in any country’s airport. But if the paperwork was correct, it should not really be an issue at all,” Stupart said.
The editor of defenceWeb, Guy Martin, described the items listed as “pretty standard and not really out of the ordinary.
“Most of the weapons are pistols and so primarily for close-in defensive protection. More serious firepower is in the form of the R1 and R5 assault rifles – these pack more of a punch. What I find interesting is the inclusion of a single FN MAG machine gun – that’s quite a potent weapon to be taking on a trip like this,” he said.
No comment from SAPS
SAPS spokesperson Athlenda Mathe said: “Police are not at liberty to confirm or comment on any aspect of this trip, in line with our protocols on communication around security and operational matters.
“We can, however, confirm that our PPS systems and procedures are in the best interest of the security of our clients, in this instance, the President.”
At the weekend, Ramaphosa spoke on the sidelines of the ANC Western Cape Provincial Conference about the incident.
“I was concerned about that when they [the news media] could not in the end… come to Kyiv and St Petersburg. That whole saga has been looked at as to what gave rise to it. There are reasons we need to fathom and get to the bottom of.
“Media is there to inform the people of South Africa and they should be given maximum opportunity to do so, even if it is negative. That was quite a trying and testing situation because there were all sorts of problems – security, logistics and so forth,” the President said.
His comments came after a Cabinet meeting last week at which Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said the events in Warsaw were “unfortunate because everything was done properly”.
Ntshavheni said, “The Department of International Relations and Cooperation will pursue discussion on this matter through the appropriate diplomatic mechanisms and channels.” DM