Western Cape police not only have to deal with several firearms that have gone missing from two stations and gangsters armed with guns meant to be with cops. They also have to contend with a shortage of ammunition at a shooting practice range.
Various issues relating to firearms and police officers in the province have surfaced over several months and viewed together, paint a worrisome picture in a province that has a massive gang violence problem.
At a press conference on Monday, Police Minister Bheki Cele said dedicated teams would crack down on crime, including gangsterism.
He also touched on the issue of illegal firearms, saying it was also a focus area.
Illegal firearms are a massive issue in the Western Cape.
10 guns, cop uniform seized within a week
Within the past week, police seized at least 10 firearms in various suburbs.
In statements, they detailed these confiscations:
- On Sunday, it was announced that three illicit firearms were discovered in Bishop Lavis, two in Gugulethu, one in Manenberg, one in Nyanga and another in Philippi East.
- A suspect with a 12 gauge shotgun and 10 live rounds of ammunition was arrested in Eastridge, Mitchells Plain on Saturday evening. The firearm was confiscated.
- Last Wednesday a 24-year-old suspect was arrested in Uitsig and a firearm was discovered in a wendy house in the backyard of a premises. A police cap, pants, shirt and handcuffs were also seized.
65 cop guns in WC lost or stolen in a year
In Parliament in April, during a meeting on the availability of illegal guns in the province, it emerged that a total of 65 police firearms were either lost, stolen, or officers were robbed of them in the past financial year.
Thirty-eight of these firearms were recovered, meaning the remaining 27 were not.
The police station in Mitchells Plain, a suburb of which parts have experienced a surge in gang shootings, accounted for most of the lost firearms.
Problems relating to firearms and police officers extend much further in the province.
Ammo shortage, 4 500 cops didn’t get firearm certification
In a mid-May briefing to Parliament about the police’s performance, Lieutenant General Sello Kwena, a divisional commissioner in the human resources unit, based on minutes of the meeting, said that the police had achieved a 92% target for competency certificates for handling handguns.
However, the situation seemed different in the Western Cape.
In May, it emerged that, for the 2017 to 2018 period, 4 556 of roughly 16 500 police officers in the province did not complete their firearm competency tests. A competency certificate is an annual requirement for a police officer who carries a firearm.
Mireille Wenger, chairperson of the Community Safety Standing Committee in the Western Cape legislature, was provided with the figures in response to a parliamentary question.
“I am informed that there is only one SAPS shooting range complex in the Western Cape, which is situated in Cape Town,” she said.
“SAPS noted that a shortage of ammunition at the range was experienced, and that this is being addressed by national head office which has allocated certain ammunition for maintenance shootings.”
No police response
National police did not reply to News24’s questions about this issue over two weeks and provincial police also did not respond to queries sent about a week ago.
Among the questions they did not respond to, News24 asked how they were addressing the matter and what impact it had on the ground.
Previously News24 reported on another matter – a total of 33 firearms which went missing from two police stations in the province.
In a November presentation to Parliament by the then acting head of the Hawks, Lieutenant General Yolisa Matakata, the theft of firearms from two police stations – Mitchells Plain and Bellville South – were detailed.
It said that on August 26, a formal firearms audit and inspection was conducted at the police’s Mitchells Plain Community Service Centre and it was discovered that 15 police handguns, with loaded magazines, containing 225 rounds of 9mm ammunition, were missing.
Police pistol found hidden in rubble
A week later, according to the Hawks’ presentation, police officers in Manenberg responded to a tip-off and discovered a 9mm pistol hidden in rubble in a backyard of an unoccupied house.
The firearm, with 13 rounds of ammunition, was one of those stolen in Mitchells Plain.
On October 17, police officers, including those from Crime Intelligence in Manenberg, “searched a known adult male gang member”, the presentation said.
It said in this incident a 9mm pistol, as well as 10 rounds of ammunition, which had been stolen in the Mitchells Plain case, were discovered.
In the case of Bellville South, the presentation said that on August 28, 18 handguns which had been seized as crime exhibits were found to be missing from a trunk in a store room.
Revolver stolen from cop storeroom found with drug suspect
On September 12, police officers on patrol in Belhar responded to a complaint – that of a firearm being pointed – and at a residence, they arrested a man who allegedly had drugs and a .357 revolver.
This revolver, according to the Hawks presentation, was one of the firearms stolen from the Bellville South station.
“In order to safeguard the integrity of the investigation, further investigative methodology and insight cannot be detailed here,” it said.
The problem of police guns ending up in the hands of criminals is much broader.
Chris Prinsloo, an ex-police colonel who was based in Vereeniging, is now serving a jail sentence for his role in a national guns-to-gangs case.
Prinsloo previously said he had sold at least 2 000 firearms, meant to be destroyed by police, to Rondebosch businessman Irshaad Laher, who then allegedly sold these to gangsters.
Vereeniging arms dealer Alan Raves was also arrested. He and Laher are expected back in the Western Cape High Court this week, when pre-trial proceedings are expected to resume.
The guns-to-gangs investigation, known as Project Impi, established that at least 261 children were murdered or wounded, between 2010 and 2016, with guns smuggled to gangsters from within the police.
About 1 066 murders were also believed to have been carried out with the firearms, of which about 1 200 were never accounted for.
In another case involving firearms – in this instance firearm licences – alleged 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield is the focus of a renewed case being heard in Khayelitsha.
The charge sheet in this matter alleges that, between May and June 2014, three ex-police officers accused in the case – Billy April, Priscilla Manganye and Mary-Gail Cartwright – had been involved in destroying or in ensuring the disappearance of documents relating to Stanfield and his associates.
The documents relate to competency and applications received at the Central Firearm Registry in Pretoria.
The charge sheet also exposes serious allegations of criminality within the police, including how officers allegedly worked with a group of suspects involved in the 28s gang, which is known for carrying out murders, assaults and intimidating witnesses in court cases.
In June 2014, Stanfield and his wife Nicole, who both reside in Newlands in Cape Town, as well as his sister Francesca Stanfield, were arrested in the city and, at roughly the same time, the Central Firearm Registry was raided.
April, Manganye, and Cartwright were then arrested.
The charges against these accused were provisionally withdrawn in October 2016.
It emerged last month that the charges were reinstated, and more were added.
More accused also form part of the massive case, involving 109 charges.
Some of the allegations against them include that details, which indicate that some of the accused had gone for firearm competency training, were entered into documents when they had actually never been for training.
Stanfield was wounded in a drive-by shooting in Johannesburg in July 2017, in what was suspected to have been linked to underworld developments.
– FOLLOW News24 on Twitter