Two Mitchell’s Plain teachers have approached AfriForum to pursue investigations into the 15 state-issued firearms that went missing from the local police station last month.
Ian Cameron, head of community safety for AfriForum, a non-governmental organisation, registered as a non-profit company, with the aim of protecting the rights of minorities, could not name the teachers fearing for their safety, but encouraged the community to “come forward”.
On Thursday September 7 Deputy Police Minister Bongani Mkongi, at a media briefing at Parliament, responded to questions about 15 state-issued 9mm pistols that went missing from Mitchell’s Plain police station on Monday August 21 as well as 18 firearms handed in as exhibits which could not be accounted for at the Bellville South police station seven days later on Monday August 28.
He said the matter was under investigation.
Brigadier Novela Potelwa, SAPS Western Cape spokesperson, said an investigation was immediately launched into both cases and is ongoing. “The internal probe instituted sets to determine whether any organisational prescripts and regulations have been flouted,” she said.
The Hawks have also initiated a criminal investigation into both incidents.
During the last crime statistics report (2016) Mitchell’s Plain was the precinct where the most crimes – 19 499 – were reported in the country. It is also topped the list nationally for the precinct with the most reported cases of illegal possession of firearms and ammunition – 225 cases – and the most drug-related crimes – 4 609 cases. Mitchell’s Plain precinct consists of three police stations, namely Mitchell’s Plain, Strandfontein and Lentegeur police stations.
Speaking to the Plainsman yesterday, Tuesday September 19, Mr Cameron said the public could open a civil suit against the government. “The police could be prosecuted for culpable homicide should weapons used in a murder be linked to them,” he said.
Mr Cameron said the Mitchell’s Plain police gun theft could form part of an application request that SAPS disclose the number of state-registered firearms that had been stolen, lost or recovered between 2009 and 2014 according to the police’s asset register, as well as the central firearms register.
“We are not saying we are going to solve all of the community’s problems but we certainly are going to help where we can and put pressure on the government,” he said.
The North Gauteng High Court referred an application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (act number 2 of 2000) (PAIA) that AfriForum brought against the police, back to SAPS in May 2017.
According to this order the police should have provided the requested information to AfriForum within 60 days or given valid reasons why they could not do this.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula told Afriforum that lost and stolen police firearms were used in violent and serious crime.
The information further indicated that the police lost about 7 829 police firearms between 2009 and 2014.
Mr Cameron said that if each of the guns were linked to a murder that would have been close to 8 000 people killed by a police firearm.
Dr Johan Burger, senior research consultant at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS), said the biggest consequence is that the guns may end up in the hands of criminals.
“Secondly the public may come to think that the police are unable to properly protect them (the community) from their (the police’s) firearms,” he said.
“This will perpetuate a further negative view that the public has of the police and the police will be seen as being responsible for arming criminals,” he said.
Dr Burger called on the community to hold the police responsible at all levels, starting with the station commander, who is responsible for ensuring that control mechanisms are in place to record the booking in and out of firearms from the police station.
“The control mechanisms must be strong. If the command is weak then the control at that police station is compromised,” he said.
Dr Burger said the cluster commander and eventually the provincial commander have a collective responsibility to make sure mechanisms are in place and that it is adhered to.
“The public is the victim of this weak control systems and they have a right to know what the police is doing about this,” he said.
Dr Burger said the police must take action against those responsible for the loss and not controlling the mechanisms.
On being asked whether regulations are different between legal gun owners and weapons at the police station, he said it should be stricter at police stations.
Dr Burger said there are several explicit regulations on how guns need to be booked in and out in a register. Police officers can either have their guns on their person or it has to be handed in.
In both cases the person the firearm is allocated to, whether an official or a legal firearm owner, is responsible for ensuring that it is handled with care.
The Plainsman called Mitchell’s Plain Community Forum (CPF) chairperson Abie Isaacs, who said all he knew about the investigation is what he has read in the newspapers.
“We welcome any investigation and believe that we should remain impartial in the investigation,” he said.