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Cops can’t be trusted to turn around SA’s decades-old trajectory of firearm control failures – new report

Cops can’t be trusted to turn around SA’s decades-old trajectory of firearm control failures – new report
Police confiscated firearms, including rifles, from a farm outside Zeerust and arrested two suspects on 7 July, 2023. The police's control of firearms has for long been mired in controversy. (Photo: South African Police Service)

A new report on firearm controls in South Africa says the police alone cannot be relied on to ensure the proper management of guns - and that tighter oversight mechanisms and a cop corruption crackdown are needed to prevent further firearm failures.

Corruption connected to cops issuing firearm licences has resulted in thousands of firearms getting into the hands of criminals.

And it gets worse — “Over the past 20 years there have also been a number of cases where [Designated Firearm Officers] at police station level have allegedly taken bribes to facilitate the processing of licence applications.”

This is according to a new report, The State of the Central Firearms Registry in South Africa: Challenges and Opportunities, by Gun Free South Africa and the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum, which was launched on Tuesday 11 July 2023, coinciding with International Gun Destruction Day.

Class action connection

The report is linked to a class action lawsuit, involving Western Cape families of people murdered and wounded with cop-smuggled firearms, that was officially launched in May 2023. 

Applicants in the case want to hold police bosses accountable for not keeping track of firearms that police were meant to have destroyed.

That case hinges on Project Impi — South Africa’s biggest firearm smuggling investigation — that led to the arrest of Chris Prinsloo, now a former police colonel who confessed to selling firearms, meant to have been destroyed, to others. 

Prinsloo was convicted in 2016, but that same year Project Impi collapsed, and some cops claimed South African Police Service (SAPS) bosses decimated it.

Jeremy Vearey, who was one of the police officers heading Project Impi, was present at the launch of the report on Tuesday.

It focuses on the Central Firearms Registry, also sometimes referred to as the Central Firearm Register (CFR), which falls under the SAPS.

Context to controversy

The CFR has been the focus of repeat turnaround plans and strategies, which are yet to succeed.

Daily Maverick has reported extensively on it and corruption relating to guns.

In terms of the CFR, Parliament recently heard that police still recorded the sale of ammunition manually and not electronically and that, in relation to solving this issue, the State Information Technology Agency awarded a contract on 5 April 2023.

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

The CFR was also based in the Veritas building in Tshwane, which was previously found unfit for occupation.

It needed to move to another building, Telkom Towers, which was only expected to be ready for occupation in October this year.

‘My niece was murdered’ 

The report released on Tuesday elaborates on those problems and details possible solutions. Police corruption is a key theme.

Speaking at the report’s launch, Oswald Reddy, the Western Cape’s police ombudsman, referred to a November 2022 news article about the murder of a woman, Sasha Lee Monique Shah.

She was shot at a shopping centre’s parking lot in Durban — allegedly by her ex-boyfriend, who she had applied for a protection order against.

Reddy on Tuesday explained that Shah was his niece.

“Her ex-boyfriend was a security officer who had a private firearm. The firearm was seized by the police but handed back to him and he used it to kill her and himself,” Reddy said.

Sasha Lee Monique Shah, firearm control

Sasha Lee Monique Shah was killed in 2022 when her ex-boyfriend allegedly shot her before killing himself. The gun used now forms part of a lawsuit. (Photo: Facebook)

“There is a lawsuit looking into how and why did he get his firearm back. All of the above are adding to the low levels of trust in the SAPS.”

Corruption and database inaccuracies

Claire Taylor of Gun Free South Africa said thorough record-keeping was critical in monitoring firearms.

She said the Prinsloo case had highlighted two key problems with police monitoring systems.

One was database inaccuracies and the other was corruption.

Taylor said the contents of Tuesday’s report would be shared with SAPS.

She welcomed the recent destruction of firearms — last week police destroyed more than 15,700 firearms that were confiscated, surrendered or forfeited to the state.

In a statement on 6 July, the SAPS said it would “continue to intensify operations to detect and remove illegal firearms and ammunition from the streets of South Africa, as they pose a threat to the safety and security of the inhabitants of this country.”

Despite the SAPS’s assurances, the CFR remains bogged down in problems. Tuesday’s report highlights that.

Guns used in many SA killings

“Since 2010, there has been corruption connected to the manner in which some SAPS personnel have administered South Africa’s firearms licensing system,” it said.

“Corruption has also tainted the management of firearms under the control of the police. These acts of corruption have resulted in the distribution of thousands of firearms to criminals, as well as the fraudulent issuing of firearm licences to unfit persons…

“This has been a major area of concern for the public and government alike, as firearms have been one of the most common and are now the leading weapon used in murders, attempted murders and robberies in South Africa.”

firearm control

Police confiscated firearms, including rifles, from a farm outside Zeerust in July 2023. A new report on firearm controls shows that the police’s systems to monitor firearms are weak. (Photo: South African Police Service)

Disastrous decade

The report released on Tuesday listed problems at the CFR, as well as other firearm control failures.

These included:

  • In 2012 the head of the CFR at the time, Brigadier Mathapelo Mangwani, in response to corruption allegations, reportedly said: “I want to turn things around. The corrupter and the (corrupted) should face the consequences.” In 2014 it was reported she was fired for allegedly accepting bribes to expedite the issuing of certain firearm licences. The report released on Tuesday added: “This was a corruption scandal of serious proportions as, in addition to Mangwani, 20 other SAPS employees were implicated, including CFR staff and Designated Firearms Officers at police stations.”
  • In June 2014, suspected 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield was arrested, along with his wife, Nicole, sister Francisca and three CFR police officers — Priscilla Mangyani, Billy April and Mary Cartwright. The cops allegedly created fraudulent firearm licences for crime suspects.
  • In 2017, according to the report, an ongoing fight between rival groups wanting to dominate nightclub security operations in Cape Town surged and led to one of the groups fraudulently getting firearm licences via a security company front.
  • In May 2023 the class action lawsuit relating to Prinsloo was launched.

‘Robust oversight’

The report released on Tuesday said “immediate steps” that should be taken to address problems at the CFR included prioritising dealing with police corruption.

“What is also clear is that the effective management of firearms in South Africa cannot be left to the police; this calls for the establishment of a robust oversight mechanism of the entire CFR to monitor progress and encourage greater effectiveness and accountability,” it said.

“As firearms-related crime continues to rise, it is clear that current strategies to control firearms in South Africa are not working and that new ways to manage firearms need to be explored. 

“In this regard, there are global initiatives to support South Africa”.

SAPS firearm control

On 6 July, 2023, the South African Police Service destroyed 15,700 firearms in Vanderbijlpark, Gauteng. (Photo: South African Police Service)

Global view 

The report noted that, in terms of firearms controls, the United Nations supported countries including the Dominican Republic and Jamaica.

“South Africa is a signatory to various legally and politically binding international and regional firearm-related instruments which require that the state put systems in place to mark and trace legal firearms stocks,” it said.

For example, this country was part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

This meant it was party to legally binding protocol that “compels SADC governments to, amongst other requirements, include in their national laws ‘the regulation and centralised registration of all civilian-owned firearms’.”

Outsourcing and profit concerns

The report said that to help pick out countries that had gun-registry systems managed by a party other than the police or military, “global exporters on small arms and light weapons control were consulted”.

They were cautious, though, of going the outsourcing route.

“A specific concern included the danger that outsourcing would result in an agency primarily focusing on revenue by selling and renewing gun licences rather than focusing on public safety,” the report said.

Focus on profits could increase the risk of fraud and corruption.

“Another concern was that having the registry outside of the police’s immediate control could impede investigations, as officers would have to submit a request to another agency for gun registry information, which could delay investigations into the origins of firearms that are seized or surrendered,” the report said.

“Delays in tracing seized and surrendered firearms highlight a further risk of an outsourced firearms registry system: leakage of firearms that are necessarily in storage — and at greater risk — while requests are processed.”

‘No obvious solution’

South Africa, the report stated, was constitutionally, legally and morally obligated to better deal with firearms.

However, it said that there was “no obvious solution” to fixing the country’s flimsy gun controls. More research was needed.

The report reiterated: “It is clear that what is being done to control firearms in South Africa is not working and that South Africa needs to explore new ways to manage firearms held by citizens, private security companies and state departments (many of which are outside oversight mechanisms).” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    “On 6 July 2023, the South African Police Service destroyed 15,700 firearms in Vanderbijlpark, Gauteng” – any evidence to prove it actually happened. Photos can be faked. SAPS can’t be trusted with any of the management of guns, or anything much, so why would we trust them to destroy weapons?

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