While the Cape Flats community recovers from news of Colonel Chris Lodewyk Prinsloo’s and local businessman Irshaad Laher (alleged) involvement in the sale of guns to gangs, the discovery of an arms cache once again called to question the South African Police Service (SAPS). Last week, reports suggested that a police intelligence-driven operation had allegedly discovered an arms cache at a cemetery in Kleinvlei, near Wesbank. The bag allegedly contained a rifle‚ ammunition‚ grenades and detonators. The circumstances surrounding the discovery of the arms cache remain unclear as the matter is under investigation. According to a report, a disturbing trend in post-apartheid South Africa is the rate that state-owned guns land in the hands of criminals through theft, negligence, fraud and corruption.
Given recent events, authorities are calling on the South Africa government to more effectively monitor the influx, distribution, sale, and confiscation of weapons in a bid to more adequately assess how many illegal guns float about in communities.
In order to gain clarity on the circumstances surrounding the sale of illegal weapons, VOC spoke to members of Community Police Forum’s (CPF) of the Cape Flats.
Speaking to VOC, chairperson Mitchells Plain Cluster Community Police Forum (CPF), Hanif Loonat explains that while there is no exact stats in existence that indicate how many illegal guns are currently on the Cape Flats, in his experience he believes that at least 70 000 illegal guns are floating in the Cape Flats.
He says that the source of the guns can be traced to the South African Police Service (SAPS), guns that were handed in during the amnesty period, and imported arms from Russia, Israel and elsewhere.
Chairman of Manenberg CPF, Kader Jacobs says that given the fact that 2.3 to 3 million legally registered guns are in the Cape Flats, the notion of “a whole lot of guns” refers to the guns obtained extra judiciously.
What are the consequences for possessing an illegal weapon?
Loonat explains that if anyone is found to be in possession of an illegal fire arm that individual will immediately apprehended. The weapon in question will consequently be sent for ballistic testing.
“If the gun is found to be linked to any murder and if he got that gun from someone else who had committed the murder in the past, he then gets arrested for the murder,” Loonat adds.
Jacobs says that the fact that an individual, who is found to be in possession of a weapon linked to a murder, has the right to apply for bail possess limitations when deterring individuals from purchasing illegal weapons.
He further asserts that the punishment for an individual who has illegally acquired a gun, which is not linked to a crime, is far too lenient.
Why was an amnesty period introduced?
An amnesty period was granted to all illegal gun owners to hand in their weapons without fear of being convicted of being in the possession of an illegal firearm.
The purpose of the amnesty period was to reduce the circulation of illegally owned firearms, as well as to encourage others to hand in their unwanted weapons.
Loonat says that while the initiative was meant to improve community safety, it consequently provided corrupt police with a niche opportunity to take-in weapons without providing a paper trail of the guns.
He explains that the process of handing in illegal guns, includes; having the gun registered in an SAP13 book, which each precinct forwards to the provincial authorities. Each provincial unit then retrieves the guns and places them in safe keeping.
“Until which time the minister of police is informed that the guns are to be destroyed in his presence. They then set a date [per province], to spot check the guns. The guns are spot checked at random to see if they are booked in SAP13 while the Hawks guard the entire premises where no guns can leave the premises and the guns are then placed in a crusher,” Loonat explained.
Loonat asserts that considering the stringent process of capturing illegal guns in SAPS and destroying them, the fact that guns have managed to land in the Cape is due to negligence.
Given the fact that Cape Flats community members are generally close knit, Jacobs says that the whereabouts of the guns is often known, but residents are unwilling to inform authorities of the illegal gun owners, generally out of fear for their safety.
“You will never find a gangster with an illegal weapon because he knows that he is a target. He may have two cars behind travelling behind him with illegal guns,” Jacobs says.
He adds that corrupt police offices often tip-off gangsters to inform them if a raid is scheduled to be conducted.
While gang leaders may not keep on their person illegal weapons, Loonat explains that the elderly and primary school children are used to store the weapons, considered the safest means to store illegal arms.
“In Manenberg a few years ago, everybody could point out the shooter, but nobody could find the gun. What happens is that the kids are trained to take the guns and move the weapon, since the police won’t expect a nine-year old to be running with a gun that has just been fired off.” Jacobs stated.
Compounding the situation, he says that those that fire the weapon are not trained shooters and, subsequently, murder innocent bystanders.
“One famous gang leader was recently shot in Manenberg. There was about 17 fired at his vehicle at close range, but only one hit his jersey. That’s how untrained these guys are – you are bound to hit innocent people,” Jacobs said.
What should gun owners do with their unwanted weapons?
In light of recent events, in which illegal arms were found to have been sourced directly from police, Loonat encourages those who wish to hand in their weapons in to hand them to official arms dealers.
As ownership is deferred to the arms dealer, Loonat says that in doing so, the gun owner is legally distanced from whatever the gun is used for in the future,
“If he feels comfortable to hand it in at a particular police station, he/she must ensure that all the paperwork is processed correctly and particularly obtain the name of the person that he/she is dealing with. But, I would also support the view of going to a dealer,” Jacobs said.
Loonat advises individuals who discover that their gun licenses have expired to hand them to arms dealers for safe keeping until such time that the licences are renewed and urges them not carry the weapon on their person.
What is the role of the CPF in protecting against the sale of illegal weapons?
Loonat explains that while the CPF has raised the issue of the influx of illegal guns at provincial and national level, it is slowly losing hope that authorities will make effective changes to improve gun laws.
He further notes that while many may not recommend it, an effective means to decrease the number of gang murders is to reintroduce the amnesty period.
“How do we reverse the situation where communities do not have guns? So we want to suggest to government to bring back the amnesty period.”
Considering the fact that community members believe the police to be the source of sale of illegal weapons, Jacobs says that CPF’s need to get involved at the level of police to ensure that no guns disappear.
“Administratively, the CPF must get involved; if there is guns that come in, it must be compulsory that the police inform the CPF about those guns,” Jacobs continued.
He further notes that more a stringent investigation needs to be conducted to uncover how guns enter the country; something he says will be facilitated by newly acquired equipment that can inspect shipping containers without it having to be opened.