The recent assassination of Lieutenant Colonel Charl Kinnear has exposed a number of vulnerabilities within the South African Police Service (SAPS).
Kinnear's tragic death has not only highlighted the dangers that detectives who investigate organised criminal activities face, but it has also re-emphasised the problem of SAPS corruption, especially in relation to firearms.
That is, immediately prior to his death, Kinnear had reportedly been investigating the role of a number of SAPS officials in the alleged fraudulent issuing of firearm licences to prominent figures in the criminal underworld.
For years, there have been various incidents of corruption connected to firearms under the control of the police, as well as with the processing of firearm licences by some SAPS officials.
These acts of corruption have resulted in thousands of firearms being transferred to criminal groups, as well as the fraudulent issuing of an unknown number of firearm licences to unfit persons.
The SAPS Central Firearms Registry (CFR) has the responsibility for administering and facilitating decision-making in relation to civilian firearm licensing, as well as overseeing the control of state-owned firearms.
Back in the late-1990s, the CFR was restructured due to a high level of dysfunctionality, and in order for the CFR to more effectively take on the additional roles and duties that were assigned to it by the Firearms Control Act (2000). The CFR was further restructured in 2012 following allegations of mismanagement.
In 2013, the CFR became embroiled in a major corruption scandal, as the head of the CFR at the time, Brigadier Mathapelo Mangwani, was implicated in accepting bribes from a major firearm dealer in Johannesburg to facilitate the fast-tracking of licence applications from this gun dealership.
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Twenty other SAPS employees were implicated, which included CFR staff and some station-level firearms officials. It was alleged that Mikey Schultz, the self-confessed killer of Brett Kebble, the high-profile mining magnate, had acquired firearm licences through this scheme. Mangwani was found guilty of corrupt practices and dismissed from the SAPS.
In 2014, investigators discovered that CFR officials had been fraudulently issuing firearm licences to a high-level Cape Town gang boss and a number of his associates, including his wife, sister and other relatives, in exchange for the payment of bribes.
Further to this, there were reports that these firearms were used in the commission of crimes in some of the most violent communities in the city. Over the years, there have also been a number of cases where SAPS firearms officials at the station level have allegedly taken bribes to illegally facilitate the processing of licence applications of those who are unfit to hold such a licence.
For example, in Lentegeur police station in 2018 two firearm officials were arrested for accepting a bribe to arrange a firearm licence for a person who had been declared unfit in this regard.
The SAPS control of firearms within their possession has also been tainted by corruption over the years. Most of the approximately 1 000 police stations across South Africa store firearms, which are usually service weapons designated for SAPS personnel; illegal firearms that have been recovered during operations; or firearms that have been surrendered to the police by members of the public.
These firearms are typically placed in secure areas in police stations, referred to as Section 13 stores. The security, management and administration of these Section 13 stores has been inconsistent across police stations, with the security of these firearms being ultimately dependent on the conscientiousness of station commanders and CFR compliance officials.
Such inconsistencies have resulted in numerous firearms from these Section 13 stores finding their way into the hands of criminals. A few examples would suffice.
In 2010, a clerk at the Inanda police station facilitated the theft of 98 firearms from the Section 13 store. He subsequently received a 20-year jail sentence. In 2014, a police raid on a house linked to an organised criminal group in Norwood led to the discovery of more than 300 unlicenced firearms.
During the ensuing legal proceedings, it was revealed that some of these firearms were police service firearms, while others had previously been surrendered to the SAPS for destruction as part of a national firearm amnesty at the Linden police station.
In 2017, SAPS firearms from the Bellville South and Mitchells Plain SAPS stations were allegedly sold by certain policemen to gang members. In December of the same year, a SAPS official was arrested in connection with supplying firearms to hitmen operating within the notorious Gleblands Hostel in uMlazi, KwaZulu-Natal.
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The most significant example of firearms-related corruption, however, is linked to Colonel Christaan Prinsloo, a SAPS official responsible for securing confiscated firearms in the Vereeniging police station.
He was arrested in January 2015, and later convicted of supplying more than 2 000 firearms via intermediaries to two of Cape Town's largest gangs. The firearms in question had originated from a SAPS stockpile that had been earmarked for destruction.
There have been efforts in recent years by police management to constructively combat corruption within the SAPS, including within the CFR and in relation to how the SAPS exercises control over firearms.
However, problems still persist. Given that firearms are the most commonly used weapon in the murder of ordinary South Africans and police officials, like Lieutenant Colonel Charl Kinnear, more comprehensive counter-corruption efforts in relation to firearms are urgently required.