Daily Maverick

Taking aim: state is failing to solve scourge of cops arming criminals

Despite measures put in place by the SAPS, firearms meant to be with police are still landing up in the hands of gang members. Now Parliament is making the matter a priority. But can it solve this convoluted problem? By

- SAPS-OWNED FIREARMS REPORTED AS EITHER LOST OR STOLEN IN 2020/21. (OF THOSE, 376 RECOVERED.) Caryn Dolley FOLLOWING THE GUNS-TOGANGS TRAIL Former cop Chris Prinsloo is sentenced to an effective 18 years in jail after admitting to selling about 2,000 fire

The deeply rooted problem of firearms moving from cops to criminals will be a particular focus in Parliament in the coming months, as related investigat­ions and court cases develop.

It emerged last month that an audit had revealed that 158 firearms were missing from the exhibit store at the Norwood police station in Johannesbu­rg.

This after eNCA reported in August last year that some firearms discovered in July at a house in Brakpan, where suspects allegedly planning to carry out a cash-in-transit robbery were intercepte­d in an incident during which a police constable was killed, were traced to the Norwood station.

When SA Police Service (SAPS) officers are involved in gun smuggling, it means they could either directly or indirectly be arming potential, and practising, assassins.

National Hawks spokespers­on Brigadier Nomthandaz­o Mbambo told last week that the Norwood firearms matter was still under investigat­ion as an inquiry.

The Norwood matter will be discussed in Parliament later this month, and other police firearms issues are also expected to remain a priority. The Portfolio Committee on Police has indicated it will be examining these.

In August last year, after the attempted insurrecti­on following former president Jacob Zuma’s jailing, Parliament heard there was “a threat against police stations and members, which involved the specific objective of obtaining firearms and ammunition”.

has establishe­d that there are also other problems relating to firearms meant to be with police but ending up with criminals that include:

Firearms going missing from police storage known as SAPS 13 exhibit stores. This was previously discussed in Parliament and measures, including limiting access to these stores, were implemente­d. The smuggling of service firearms and firearms that are supposed to be destroyed.

Corruption and slow processes at the Central Firearm Registry (CFR). A research paper on this presented to Parliament last year said the CFR, which was establishe­d to process and monitor firearm ownership through applicatio­ns and renewals, had been “plagued by challenges, which led to a near collapse of the informatio­n technology system behind the CFR”. A turnaround strategy was in place.

The creation of fraudulent firearm licences involving broader collusion with figures linked to policing, clubs where proficienc­y testing is conducted, and private security.

According to the SAPS 2020/21 annual report, 566 SAPS-owned firearms were reported as either lost or stolen in that year, a slight decrease from 672 in 2019/20 and 607 in 2018/19. (Of the firearms lost or stolen in 2020/21, 376 were recovered.)

The SAPS has several operations to tackle firearm smuggling and uses the hashtag #GunsOffThe­Streets on social media.

Around the time of the Brakpan incident linked to the Norwood police station, the DA called for an audit of all SAPS exhibit stores and of SAPS firearms.

In response to a question about whether other police stations would be audited, national SAPS spokespers­on Major-General Mathapelo Peters told this week: “It would be inappropri­ate for the SAPS to publicise any planned audit of any environmen­t. For this reason, we cannot give comment on this question, at this stage.”

She said there were plans in place to prevent the theft of state firearms and these were “managed through the developmen­t and implementa­tion of relevant National Instructio­ns and the Police Safety Strategy”.

If a criminal was found with a state firearm, an investigat­ion would be conducted into how that had come about.

“Should it be found that such illegal possession is as a result of police colluding with criminals, or sheer negligence, such a member could be subjected to a criminal investigat­ion or department­al process, or both,” Peters said. “A ballistic test is conducted to establish possible linkage between a firearm and previous crime.”

A presentati­on to Parliament in August last year outlined further plans to try to prevent firearm losses.

“The SAPS currently makes use of nine central firearm storage facilities, where firearms identified for disposal are stored prior to destructio­n. All Commanders were instructed to conduct physical firearm and ammunition inspection­s during on-duty and off-duty parades,” the presentati­on said.

Commanders were also “instructed to keep minimum firearms and ammunition in the [community service centre] safes to be issued for operationa­l duties”.

Tina Joemat-Pettersson, chair of the Portfolio Committee on Police, said last month that the securing of evidence including firearms needed to be dealt with urgently. “Corrupt police officers must be removed from the service to ensure the credibilit­y of SAPS is retained and maintained,” she said. “There is a need for a broader change management strategy within the SAPS in relation to the administra­tion of firearms.”

The problem of state firearms ending up with criminals dates back decades, and claims of political manoeuvrin­g always tail this issue. Common claims are that political operatives are trying to maintain power by partnering with more overt criminals – much like what happened during apartheid, and with State Capture more recently.

Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear, who was assassinat­ed in September 2020, was among a team of Western Cape police officers investigat­ing how fellow officers were allegedly creating fraudulent firearm licences for criminal suspects. These officers were stationed in various areas in Gauteng – including Norwood.

National Police Commission­er Khehla Sitole, South Africa’s top police officer, is the subject of two criminal complaints relating to the Independen­t Police Investigat­ive Directorat­e’s allegation­s that he did not cooperate with its investigat­ion into why Kinnear was not under any form of protection at the time of his murder. The following are three other key matters where cops have been implicated

Firearms smuggled from police officers to gangsters resulted in: in either smuggling, stealing or being lax with firearms:

Missing Mitchells Plain firearms

Five police officers were dismissed after 15 handguns went missing from the Mitchells Plain police station’s community service centre in Cape Town between April and August 2017.

As reported by Daily Maverick in April last year, an arbitratio­n hearing found there was never any evidence against the dismissed officers, and it was recommende­d that they be reinstated with back pay.

This suggests the officers had been set up and those responsibl­e for the firearms going missing were not held to account.

The arbitratio­n finding said: “It has become a norm that there are allegation­s that senior officers are … involved in underworld activities… It is a worrying factor that senior police officers are involved in these shenanigan­s instead of protecting, combating and preventing crimes, as required by the Constituti­on of the Republic of South Africa.”

It also said that Brigadier Cass Goolam, one of the five officers suspended and later cleared of wrongdoing, had been on a hitlist – as had Kinnear – because he was disrupting firearm smuggling chains.

Goolam was viewed as being aligned to former police officer Jeremy Vearey, who had investigat­ed several issues relating to gun smuggling and gangsters.

Cop collusion complicate­s gang gun licence case

In June 2014, suspected 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield was arrested, along with his wife, Nicole, sister Francisca and three Central Firearm Registry police officers – Priscilla Mangyani, Billy April and Mary Cartwright.

Vearey had been involved in investigat­ing this case, which was provisiona­lly withdrawn in 2016 but later reinstated.The core of it was that cops allegedly created fraudulent firearm licences for suspects.

Court papers from December 2019 linked to this Stanfield matter said: “It was complicate­d by the number of suspects in different provinces and the suspected involvemen­t of present and past members of the SAPS.”

Project Impi and Chris Prinsloo

And then there is Project Impi and the policing scandal that developed from that.

In December 2013, two police officers then based in the Western Cape – Vearey and Peter Jacobs (widely viewed as being aligned to Kinnear) – launched Project

Impi, which became known as the gunsto-gangs investigat­ion.

It emerged, via related court processes, that in the Western Cape between 2010 and 2016, firearms smuggled from police officers to gangsters had been used in 1,666 murders and 1,403 attempted murders. At least 261 children were shot.

In June 2016, despite the critical investigat­ion they were heading, both Vearey and Jacobs were effectivel­y demoted in the Western Cape.

That same month, former police officer Chris Prinsloo was sentenced to an effective 18 years in jail for selling firearms that ended up with gang members in the Western Cape. The firearms had been in police storage and were meant to be destroyed.

In an October 2016 affidavit, Vearey warned that police could be held liable for crimes committed with the firearms. Project Impi had been “decimated on the orders of SAPS management”, he said.

“This has the opposite effect to what is in the interest of SAPS, their constituti­onal mandate and the public interest.”

Vearey has since been controvers­ially fired from the police service over Facebook posts and Jacobs, previously head of the country’s Crime Intelligen­ce, was effectivel­y demoted again.

A court case stemming from their Prinsloo investigat­ion, involving two other accused, is yet to reach trial phase.

According to court papers from February 2021, Prinsloo “agreed to become a State witness in [that] trial”.

But matters surroundin­g Prinsloo are murky. Daily Maverick reported in October 2020 that he had been released on parole after serving only four years of his sentence.

In a December 2020 response to Parliament­ary questions about Prinsloo, Justice Minister Ronald Lamola explained, without naming him, that he had qualified for remission of sentence, which reduced his sentence by one year.

“He then became eligible to be considered for parole as part of the Special Parole Dispensati­on and his placement on parole was approved by the parole board.”

Prinsloo was placed in witness protection. But photograph­s purportedl­y of him were leaked to the media towards the end of 2020 and so it appears his cover was blown, raising concerns about how this came about.

Questions still linger, meanwhile, about the firearms that Prinsloo sold. Some of these have apparently never been traced and it is unclear whether they are still passing between the hands of criminals.

In 1993, Hard Livings gang boss Rashied Staggie said cops sold their service firearms to the gang and falsely reported the weapons as stolen. Staggie, suspected of previously working with apartheid police, was assassinat­ed in December 2019. His words, of cops colluding with criminals over firearms, echo in several subsequent cases:

Suspected 28s gang boss Ralph Stanfield is arrested, along with two relatives and three Central Firearm Registry cops. Allegation­s are that cops created fraudulent firearm licences for suspects. The charges against Stanfield and his co-accused are later withdrawn, then reinstated and more suspects added to the case.

Fifteen handguns go missing from the Mitchells Plain police station’s community service centre in Cape Town. Five cops are dismissed, but it is later found they should be reinstated. Meanwhile, a 9mm pistol is found in rubble in gang hotspot Manenberg, and another is found on a gangster from there. Both firearms are traced back to the Mitchells Plain theft.

Police announce at least 21 people, including cops, are allegedly involved in a syndicate creating fraudulent firearm licences for criminals. Suspects had approached cops in areas including Edenvale, Norwood and Kempton Park in Gauteng. Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear is among those investigat­ing this syndicate.

The problem of state firearms ending up with criminals dates back decades, and claims of political

manoeuvrin­g always tail this issue

In Brakpan, Gauteng cops intercept a group of suspects allegedly planning a cash-intransit robbery. During the incident, 19 suspects are arrested, two are killed and a policeman is shot dead. Nine firearms are seized. eNCA reports that some of the firearms have been traced to the Norwood police station.

Cape of Fear;

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