By Caryn Dolley, News24, 11/02/2017
Cape Town – Stolen police firearms – some pilfered several years ago, but which are still in circulation – are being used in politically-motivated shootings, gang hits and taxi violence.
Sources with close knowledge of the situation this week told News24 how guns, stolen from police, have for years been, and are still being, used to commit crimes around the country, and particularly in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.
‘Key markets’ for SAPS guns
KwaZulu-Natal has, according to the sources, for many years been a key market for stolen police firearms which are then used in predominantly political and taxi killings.
In one of the latest incidents in KwaZulu-Natal, the chairperson of the Klipriver Taxi Association was travelling with four members of his personal security detail near Matiwaneskop early on Tuesday when the occupants of two vehicles opened fire on them.
All five were killed. Their vehicle then crashed into a minibus taxi, killing five passengers. Two more died in hospital, bringing the death toll to 12.
The high level of politically motivated killings has also been identified as a problem in KwaZulu-Natal.
The Moerane Commission is investigating political killings in the province since 2011.
In September, the ANC in KwaZulu-Natal said a “sponsored” third force could be behind the murders.
Cape Town, according to sources, was previously viewed as a “side market” for stolen police guns, but in recent years demand there has grown as gang violence, in particular, has surged.
Demand ‘created by gangsters’
Gang shootings have drastically increased in Cape Town to the point that on October 10 Police Minister Fikile Mbalula announced he had asked the army to try and help police clamp down on this.
It is not yet clear if President Jacob Zuma will authorise this.
Gangsters, sources said, relied on getting their hands on guns, including police firearms, to carry out shootings.
This week another source said gang members in Cape Town were now getting guns from KwaZulu-Natal, as more police firearms were stolen in that province.
But other sources said gangsters already had sufficient firearms in the Western Cape.
News24 has also reliably learnt that a high-profile alleged gangster from Durban, who has ties to top politicians and who some claim was previously involved in channelling guns, is related to an alleged gang boss based in Cape Town.
It is understood the two work together.
Mbalula’s spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga was not immediately on Thursday able to provide a response to News24’s queries on the matter.
A recent reply to a Democratic Alliance parliamentary question on stolen police guns highlights the extent to which police guns have been stolen.
More than 2 000 guns stolen from police
Mbalula’s reply said a total of 2 027 firearms were stolen from police armouries over three-and-a-half-years.
His response shows:
- In the 2014/2015 period, 602 guns were stolen. In 2015/2016, 630 were stolen, while over the 2016/2017 period 537 were stolen.
- Since April 2017, 248 firearms were stolen from police armouries across the country.
- Over three years and seven months, the most firearms were stolen in KwaZulu-Natal armouries year-on-year, as well as in total. A total of 519 guns were stolen there since 2014.
- Gauteng recorded the second highest number of firearms being stolen from police armouries since 2014. It recorded a total of 409 guns being stolen.
- In the Western Cape, 120 firearms were stolen from police armouries over the same period.
‘Police fueling the illegal arms trade’
DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard, reacting to the response on Tuesday, said the number of firearms stolen from police was the result of “institutional failure”.
“The reality is that the SAPS is fuelling the illegal arms trade,” she said.
“Thousands of SAPS firearms have been stolen over the past 20 years.”
Kohler Barnard said the DA would carry out oversight visits to police armouries and would insist that Mbalula order a national audit of all police firearms.
Mbalula’s response to the DA’s questions did not include how many of stolen firearms had been retrieved as this was not asked.
In August it emerged that a total of 33 firearms had gone missing from two Cape Town police stations – according to sources, from locked containers in storerooms in the Mitchells Plain and Bellville south stations.
At the time, Mbalula said these guns had likely been smuggled by police officers to gangsters.
Shortly after this was announced, an audit of firearms at all police stations in the Western Cape would be carried out.
In September, a police constable from Cape Town was arrested after a robbery at a shop in Delft – an area about 25km from the Cape Town city centre – led to police uncovering that he was allegedly involved in the crime and was keeping an official R5 rifle hidden under a mattress at a friend’s home.
Still in circulation
This week sources said stolen police firearms were definitely still in circulation around the country.
Some of these firearms are apparently linked to Chris Prinsloo – an ex-police colonel from Vereeniging, who was previously in charge of the police armoury and who stole 2 400 guns over almost a decade.
About 1 200 of these guns are believed to still be in circulation on the streets.
In June 2016, Prinsloo – who pleaded guilty to 11 charges including theft, racketeering, and money laundering – was sentenced to 18 years in jail.
Prinsloo had sold guns meant to have been destroyed by police.
Rondebosch businessman Irshaad Laher allegedly bought and sold these to gangsters.
Laher and Vereeniging arms dealer Alan Raves are set to go on trial for their alleged role in the gun-smuggling syndicate, which included police officers.
They are set to appear in the Western Cape High Court in February 2018.
It previously emerged that the State alleged Raves stole 18 weapons from the Durban Light Infantry, a regiment of the SA National Defence Force (SANDF), between September 2012 and September 2015.
He was also accused of thefts prior to this – of stealing another 15 weapons from the SANDF and police between 2007 or 2008 and January 2015.
Some of these stolen weapons, according to an amended indictment in the matter, included a Vickers 7.62mm light machine gun. Sources previously told News24 this was sometimes referred to as a “chainsaw” because of how it rips apart targets.
Other stolen weapons included a Gorjunov light machine gun and a RPD light machine gun.
Corruption claims and ‘political interference’
Prinsloo, Laher and Raves were arrested as part of South Africa’s biggest ever gun smuggling investigation, named Project Impi.
Major General Jeremy Vearey and Major General Peter Jacobs of the Western Cape had headed up the investigation until their sudden transfers in June 2016.
They had said their transfers, which became the subject of a Labour Court case, had effectively stifled the probe which was uncovering, among other activities, corruption within the police.
An affidavit in the matter, by Vearey, said former MP Vytjie Mentor’s state capture statement to police made it seem as if he and Jacobs were part of a political faction. This, he said, was one of the factors which played a role in their transfers.
Project Impi also included looking into whether illicit firearms were being smuggled out of South Africa, if firearms were being stockpiled against the state by right wing groups, and how cops were colluding with gangsters.
The gun smuggling investigation has since been taken over by the Hawks, who are looking into several aspects of the country’s illicit firearms trade.