Guns to gangs:’Prove our stolen firearms were used in killings’, says cop boss

Guns to gangs:’Prove our stolen firearms were used in killings’, says cop boss
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 where she lives, Manenberg. (Photo Brenton Geach)

A class action lawsuit, brought by families of people killed by ‘cop-smuggled’ guns, might have hit an obstacle before it gets off the ground.

National police commissioner General Fannie Masemola says members of class action proceedings – Western Cape families of people murdered with allegedly cop-smuggled firearms – will need to prove the guns were channelled via a corrupt officer.

If they cannot do so, he adds, they may not be classified as part of the class action.

Masemola’s stance on the Western Cape lawsuit, which is still at an early stage, is part of an affidavit he signed in Pretoria on 2 October that Daily Maverick has seen.

‘Prove cop corruption’

It suggests that, although the South African Police Service (SAPS) is not totally against the class action, it will be up to the 10 applicants in the case to prove that specific police corruption resulted in the shootings that affected them.

This could be tricky because that information probably resides with the SAPS.

Daily Maverick previously reported that a group of Western Cape families of individuals murdered with police-smuggled firearms – as well as survivors of such crimes – wanted compensation for what they had been through.

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

In May 2023, documents to apply for certification of the class action were lodged in the Western Cape High Court.

Gun Free South Africa (GFSA) was driving the proceedings, in which damages were being sought from Police Minister Bheki Cele. Masemola and provincial police bosses were also cited as respondents in the case.

Project Impi origins

The lawsuit 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 that had been consigned to be destroyed. 

Some of these weapons ended up with gangsters in the Western Cape.

According to Project Impi investigations, about 2,000 cop-smuggled firearms could be linked to the shooting of 261 children – as well as 1,666 murders and 1,403 attempted murders.

In 2016, Prinsloo was convicted and sentenced to 18 years in jail, but he served only four years of his prison sentence.

Meanwhile, in 2016, Project Impi collapsed and its investigators, including former policeman Jeremy Vearey, claimed SAPS bosses had undermined it.

Project Impi firearms are alleged to have affected nine of the 10 applicants in the class action lawsuit.

guns to gangs

National Police Commissioner Fannie Masemola at a press conference in Pretoria on 1 August 2022. (Photo: Gallo Images / Beeld / Deaan Vivier)

Ballistic evidence will be needed

In his affidavit in the case, Masemola says ballistic evidence will be needed for every claim against the SAPS, with proof that the firearms used in crimes had been linked to Prinsloo.

He refers to various incidents, including one linked to Melanie Kiel, an applicant in the case who, in an affidavit of her own, says her son Dudley Richards was murdered in Mitchells Plain in 2013.

Masemola says he went through the ballistics reports in that case and an investigating officer’s affidavit.

“No firearm was retrieved at the crime scene,” he says.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Police are still arming criminals, despite ‘plans’ to stop the scourge

“No link to any ‘Prinsloo firearm’ was established.”

‘No Prinsloo links’

Masemola also refers to another case, involving Simone Julies, whose two young sons, Mogamat Nazeer and Mogamat Moeneer, were wounded in October 2014 in Mitchells Plain.

The police boss says that after the shooting “no firearms were retrieved and the cartridge cases retrieved at the scene could not be linked to any firearm”.

Masemola again adds: “No link to any ‘Prinsloo firearm’ was established.”

He says  for an applicant to be classified as a member of the class action lawsuit, “each will first need to prove that the injuries, which allegedly give rise to their claim for damages, did, in fact, arise from the use of a ‘Prinsloo firearm’”.

Until the applicants can prove that, they cannot be part of the class action, he adds.

“In each instance, apart from the events surrounding the shooting, applicants will be required to separately provide detailed ballistic evidence in regard to the firearms and/or cartridge cases and bullets relevant to their matter, in an attempt to establish that the firearm in questions was a ‘Prinsloo firearm’,” reads the affidavit.

Aside from selling police guns to gangsters, Prinsloo was also involved in distributing military and heritage firearms.

Which gun is which?

Masemola, in his affidavit, says this means that even if an applicant can prove a Prinsloo firearm was used in an incident, it might not be clear that  the gun emanated from  the SAPS, or was from a SA National Defence Force or a heritage source. It is not yet apparent what will happen next in the lawsuit.

Daily Maverick has previously reported extensively on alleged police corruption involving firearms.

Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear, who was assassinated outside his Bishop Lavis home in Cape Town in September 2020, had been investigating how police colleagues in Gauteng were allegedly creating fraudulent firearm licences for suspected criminals.

‘28s gang boss’ is linked

Another case in which similar allegations have surfaced involves 28s gang boss accused Ralph Stanfield, who, together with his wife Nicole Johnson, was arrested at the end of September this year.

At the time of their arrests for charges including fraud, they were already facing accusations stemming from a criminal case that started developing in 2014.

That case is based on allegations that three (now former) police officers linked to the Central Firearm Registry — Priscilla Mangyani, Billy April and Mary Cartwright — issued gun licences to Stanfield and others who had no legal right to them.

This matter is expected to resume next month. DM

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.


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