Hollow points – more than 3,000 gun murders in 3 months, but plans to tackle the problem miss critical targets

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    Nat Quinn

    Police Minister Bheki Cele has announced that 3,144 people were murdered with guns in the last three months of 2022. He says while cops will intensify their focus on illegal firearms, the problem boils down to human behaviour. While he did not say it outright, this inevitably includes cop corruption.

    Of the 7,555 people murdered in South Africa in the final three months of last year, 3,144 were killed with firearms.
    During the release of the quarterly crime statistics on Friday, Police Minister Bheki Cele said that given the situation, the South African Police Service (SAPS) was focusing on cracking down on illicit guns.
    “The SAPS will continue to intensify operations to detect and remove illegal firearms and ammunition, whilst legislation intervention in the amendment to the Firearms Control Act, to address the availability of guns in our communities, is under way,” he said.
    “While gun violence is problematic and poses a serious threat to lives and livelihoods… With the analysis of the current and previous statistics, it is quite evident that firearms are only part of a bigger problem.
    “At the core of the matter is human behaviour.”
    Cele said South Africans needed to be honest about the causes of violence.
    “High rates of unemployment and poverty levels, the mushrooming of informal settlements with little to no services and other socioeconomic ills are breeding criminality,” he added.
    Cele was not the only politician to refer to firearm violence in South Africa this week.
    High-profile assassinations
    On Thursday, the government news website issued a statement saying that the SAPS was being bolstered to tackle gun violence.
    This stance, it said, was announced while taking into account the murder of rapper Kiernan Forbes, also known as AKA, and the murder of his former manager, Tebello “Tibz” Motsoane, outside a Durban restaurant a week ago.
    The statement also referred to the murder of Ayob Mungalee, an anti-crime activist who was shot near his Eldorado Park home on 12 February.
    “Recent mass shootings” in the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal were also acknowledged.
    According to the statement, Minister in the Presidency Mondli Gungubele said: “These heinous and cold-blooded attacks, which are being investigated by law-enforcement authorities, highlight the prevalence of gun violence and its impact on communities.”
    More than 65,000 guns seized
    Over a year, the statement said, police had confiscated 65,519 firearms.
    Aside from focusing on illicit guns, Gungubele said more cops would be dispatched to the streets and specialised police teams set up to deal with specific crimes.
    This mirrored what President Cyril Ramaphosa said in his State of the Nation Address this month.
    “We are strengthening the SAPS to prevent crime and improving the capacity of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and courts to ensure perpetrators are brought to justice,” he said.
    “This includes putting more police on the streets and setting up specialised teams that will focus on specific types of crime.”
    Credit should be given where it is deserved and while the government’s plans to stamp out crime should not be dismissed, what cannot be ignored is that the state’s public vows about bolstered policing and firearm-related violence fail to address pointed corruption.
    Missing firearms and cop station audits
    Daily Maverick has reported extensively on the problem of police officers implicated in smuggling firearms to criminals.
    In one of the big cases, it emerged in January 2022 that more than 150 firearms had gone missing from the exhibit store at the Norwood police station in Johannesburg.
    This led to audits in the Western Cape, Gauteng, the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal – these provinces had the most firearms in police storage.
    In a response to Parliamentary questions, which was signed off in December, Cele said that between the start of April and the end of December last year, 292 police stations that stored 114,446 firearms had been audited.

    The audits had shown there were “no new cases of lost or stolen firearms out of SAPS storage”.
    Some Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape police stations, which had minimal firearms in storage, would still be audited during the 2023/24 financial year.
    Killing Kinnear and the gun licence cases
    It was not only firearms that were problematic in the police service – the matter of firearm licences has raised red flags.
    In June 2020, about 16 suspects, including police officers based in Gauteng, were arrested in a case focused on allegations that certain cops were fraudulently creating firearm licences for suspects.
    Lieutenant-Colonel Charl Kinnear, who was assassinated in a shooting outside his Cape Town home in September 2020, had been investigating the problem.
    An Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid) report into issues surrounding his murder later found he had uncovered problems at the Central Firearms Register.
    Read in Daily Maverick: “In SAPS veritas – how the ‘dangerous’ police firearms control offices symbolise a service in crisis
    “The designated firearms officers would facilitate the processing of the firearm licence application to individuals who are not fit to possess firearms,” Ipid’s report said.
    “The investigations gave rise to the arrest of the suspects and for SAPS to institute disciplinary actions against involved members.
    “However, [Kinnear’s] death has led to the effective collapse of these cases.”
    It is not publicly clear which cases have been salvaged.
    ‘Decimated’ Project Impi
    Then there is the case of Project Impi – a massive investigation into firearm smuggling that began in 2013 but, according to the police officers driving it, derailed a few years later because of SAPS management.
    One of the focus areas was how cops were allegedly channelling firearms, which were meant to be destroyed, to criminals.
    In June 2016 former Gauteng cop Chris Prinsloo was sentenced to an effective 18 years in jail for selling firearms that ended up with gang members in the Western Cape.
    In an affidavit dated October 2016, former policeman Jeremy Vearey, who was one of the cops who headed Project Impi, said the investigation had been “decimated on the orders of SAPS management” and that police could be held liable for crimes committed with the firearms.
    Some court cases linked to Project Impi are yet to conclude.
    It is yet to be seen whether any SAPS managers, past or present, will face legal action in relation to firearms that were meant to be in cop custody, instead being used in crimes including murder.
    ‘The situation cannot continue’
    During the release of the quarterly crime statistics on Friday, Cele did not address the issue of cop corruption of his own accord.
    But during a question-and-answer session with the media, he was asked about political parties suggesting he was in cahoots with criminals – earlier this week it was widely reported that the EFF’s Julius Malema had accused Cele of being on the payroll of crooks.
    In response, Cele said on Friday: “The criminals are using some loud-mouthed politicians to shout things… The police are too close for comfort to some politicians, so they shout first.”
    Cele also said it was not only the police who needed to work on corruption, but also other authorities, including the judiciary.
    He added that a judge may soon be arrested in connection with a “trust money” issue.
    Meanwhile, during his State of the Nation Address last week, Ramaphosa addressed corruption, but not specifically within the police service.
    He said, for example, that the SAPS had “established a dedicated team with senior leadership to deal with the pervasive corruption and theft at several power stations”.
    Ramaphosa also said: “Communities across our country live in fear for the safety of their families. This situation cannot continue.”
    The same sentiment should be applied to corruption in the SAPS, which ultimately has to do with “human behaviour”, which Cele said is at the core of the firearm violence problem in South Africa.

    South Africa’s gun murders: plans to tackle problem mis… (dailymaverick.co.za)

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