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Plans to digitise SAPS firearm registration as recovered weapons find their way back to the streets

Police minister Bheki Cele says his department remains concerned about how firearms such as R5 rifles are finding their way into the hands of criminals.

Orrin Singh Reporter
While only police and soldiers are authorised to be in possession of R5 assault rifles, the high-calibre weapons are in the hands of many criminals in SA.
While only police and soldiers are authorised to be in possession of R5 assault rifles, the high-calibre weapons are in the hands of many criminals in SA.
Image: SA Police Service

In an attempt to combat internal corruption, the SAPS is planning to digitise the booking of recovered items — specifically firearms — into their exhibit rooms. 

Police minister Bheki Cele on Wednesday revealed that police have been fighting a losing battle regarding the registration of firearms, as high-calibre weapons such as the R5 rifle — a weapon produced for the sole use of the police and the defence force — are finding their way into the hands of criminals.

Addressing the media on how KwaZulu-Natal had overtaken the Western Cape in terms of mass killings — highlighting that 531 people had been massacred in 229 incidents since April last year — Cele said pertinent questions had been raised about how R5 rifles were being used by criminals to commit murders, when only police and military were authorised to have such weapons.

Poor management and accountability of SAPS stores create the opportunity for corruption and sales of firearms to criminal elements. These corrupt police officers must be removed from the service to ensure the credibility of SAPS is retained and maintained.
Chair of the portfolio committee on police, Tina Joemat-Pettersson

“We went to the funeral where an officer was killed. Among those firearms found to have killed our officer was an R5. We demanded to find out where these R5s came from because we all know they are owned by the police.

“A certain brigadier at the funeral as well the provincial commissioner were instructed to bring that report. That’s how the investigation started and then there was information about the police station in Norwood [Johannesburg]," he said. 

He said investigations led police to question a junior member working with SAP 13 (exhibit room), who later committed suicide.

Investigations revealed that at least 158 firearms had been stolen from the Norwood police station. Cele said three senior officials were implicated and would have to answer to how the firearms went missing. 

It is unclear whether former Northwood station commander Col Phetole Mahasha, who resigned on January 14 due to “personal reasons”, had been one of the three implicated. 

“We are tightening up so that consequences are much greater, protection of these firearms is better and the registration of firearms is improved. We are getting a company to develop a digital registration,” said Cele. 

After the incident at Norwood, the chair of parliament's portfolio committee on police, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, called for immediate disciplinary measures against any SAPS member found to have been involved.

Joematt-Petterson said an oversight visit to the Central Firearms Registry (CFR) offices highlighted general concerns with SAPS’s overall administration of firearms. 

“The committee then called for the modernisation of the CFR following information of huge backlogs in processing of firearm licence applications and amnesties at the registry. The removal of illegal firearms from the streets is hampered by a dysfunctional CRF.

“Therefore, there is a need for a broader change-management strategy within the SAPS in relation to the administration of firearms. This change in management is necessary if we as a country are to win the war against the proliferation of illegal firearms and their removal from streets,” she said.


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