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Revealed: An incomplete list of weapons that were on board the grounded SAA flight in Warsaw

Revealed: An incomplete list of weapons that were on board the grounded SAA flight in Warsaw
Clockwise from top left: CAT R5, bulletproof vest, CAT FN mag, CAT USP PISTOL, radio / satphone. (Images: Supplied)

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.

‘Dangerous goods’

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 MaverickResponse 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


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Incompetence!!!Should have been smooth sailing if everything was 100%

    • Eyes Wide Shut says:

      Warsaw being petty. Ramaphosa had no intention of performing a coup. He’s a president of a sovereign country. If Biden turned up with an incomplete list, would the Polish government have treated him in the same manner. Pathetic politics by Warsaw.

      • Arnold Nardy says:

        Mike, maybe, but you cant compare the US president to Cyril Ramaphosa – most in Poland dont even know Cyril exists, and Biden is at far more risk of being assassinated. This story only made 3rd page news in Poland with a short report. Lets face it, we are not being taken seriously and having ” Quasi security detachments from another failed African State” running around with LMG’s and assault rifles was clearly seen as a threat to the Polish public. The real problem here is that our ANC Government has lost respect in the eyes of the world many years ago now. SA being perceived as pro Russian didnt help either. Oh and lastly, no doubt the documents were not in order, our civil servants have a long track record of getting things wrong.

        • Francois Smith says:

          And one should also take into account that Ramaphosa is the CIC of the SANDF, but he needs a commission of enquiry to know what happens at a naval base under his command.

  • Lesley Young says:

    Protection team of 100 men and only 20 sleeping bags? They must all be very friendly!

  • Jennifer D says:

    Hardly inappropriate for the purpose. Poland clearly taking a political position due to SAs peculiar friendship with Putin.

  • KB Ohone says:

    Has anyone noticed that the plane ZS-SXF has not flown at all since it returned to Johannesburg on 18th of June after dropping everyone off at Waterkloof? I wonder why? And I wonder who is carrying the cost of the plane being out of service – SAA or the taxpayer.

  • Graham Nelson says:

    I’m surprised there hasn’t been another commission of inquiry. Our Public Protector will be available soon to head it up.

  • Wolfgang Preiser says:

    To me this shows a bunch of morons totally unaware of everything. What the heck is all that stuff (and people – who we need here to kick some military trainees in their faces) going to achieve in a war zone where rockets and artillery fire and tanks are the threat? Pompous but so stupid…. (BTW, a big thank you to Poland for keeping these guys out of serious trouble – kicking Ukraininan military personnel in the face would end very differently than on a Jo’burg motorway).

  • Jon Quirk says:

    And this of course will just be a pin-prick when full details are revealed of EXACTLY was uploaded to the Lady R – but of course Squirrel will never reveal this….

  • andrew farrer says:

    My god! an R1 and FN MAG? Shows just how archiac SAPS is. As a medic in th army in the 80’s, we were the last branch to still be using R1’s, and were replaced with R5’s half way through our call up. Both FN & R1 date back to the 1950’s! How the Poles must have laughed . . .

  • Margaret Jensen says:

    I am still of the opinion that the documents were not properly completed no matter how much the SANDF & SAPS say all was done.
    It was embarrassing incompetence.

  • Confucious Says says:

    Do not underestimate Poland! GROM are not idiots! They will find out if you are being transparent or not!

  • Iam Fedup says:

    “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. Oh, the irony! Does this foolish man actually think before he opens his mouth to speak? But we keep forgetting that he, Mugabe, Mangwanga, and all other little dictators are cut from the same cloth.

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