High Court orders SAPS to disclose firearms destruction records amid safety concerns

The High Court in Pretoria ruled in favour of the Southern African Agri Initiative (Saai), compelling the South African Police Service (SAPS) to disclose records on firearms destruction. The SAPS failed to provide evidence of IBIS testing before destruction, raising concerns of lost evidence or firearms in criminal hands. Minister Bheki Cele’s stance against firearm ownership contrasts public safety needs, emphasizing the need for police accountability and community-led security initiatives amidst systemic failures.

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By Daniël Eloff

The High Court in Pretoria recently ruled in favour of the Southern African Agri Initiative (Saai) to compel the South African Police Service (SAPS) to provide records regarding its destruction of firearms in 2021 and 2022.

This was after the SAPS failed to provide proof that the firearms were subjected to IBIS ballistic analysis prior to being destroyed, Saai having requested the records via an access to information application in terms of the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA). This failure by the police means that it remains unclear whether these firearms, potentially linked to crimes, were properly accounted for before being destroyed, or even whether they have been destroyed at all.

In terms of the subsequent court judgment and order, the SAPS was required to provide Saai within 30 days with “information which substantiates” the claim that the nearly 50 000 firearms were in fact destroyed. The SAPS then provided Excel spreadsheets listing 35 202 firearms purportedly destroyed.

However, no destruction certificates or information verifying the list were provided. More concerningly, a further spreadsheet was provided listing 16 805 firearms or firearm parts which were purportedly destroyed without being subjected to IBIS testing. This raises grave concerns about public safety and the rule of law.

This case presents three troubling scenarios, each with its own implications for the integrity of law enforcement and the safety of South African citizens. Firstly, if the firearms were destroyed without undergoing proper ballistic testing, essential evidence for criminal cases may have been irreversibly lost.

Secondly, if the SAPS cannot provide evidence that the firearms were indeed tested before destruction, it calls into question the competence and diligence of the institution entrusted with ensuring public safety. Lastly, if the firearms have not been destroyed and have instead fallen into criminal hands, it represents a catastrophic failure of law enforcement, with police potentially arming criminal elements with these weapons.

Unfortunately, this would not be the first instance of law enforcement inadvertently facilitating criminal activity. The case of Christiaan Prinsloo, a former police colonel who, while employed by the SAPS, sold police-owned firearms to Cape Town gangs, serves as a stark reminder of the dangers posed by lapses in accountability within the SAPS. This lapse of accountability is  exacerbated by Prinsloo’s release from prison after serving less than a third of his sentence.

Deplorable conduct

Add this deplorable conduct by the SAPS to the fact that Minister Bheki Cele asserts that there is no inherent right to own a firearm contained in the South African Constitution. This, coupled with no such explicit statutory right, reveals not only a profound misunderstanding of fundamental liberties but also a troubling disregard for the safety concerns of ordinary South Africans.

The assertion, coming from a minister who is consistently flanked by an armed entourage, highlights a concerning unawareness by political elites of the daily realities of citizens grappling with escalating crime rates across the nation. This shortsighted and incorrect assertion by Cele is also made, despite the fact that the SAPS itself has acknowledged the immense challenges it faces in fulfilling its mandate, with the former National Police Commissioner noting the police’s overstretched capacity and the alarming frequency of emergency calls that are not attended to.

The notion that firearm ownership is a privilege granted at the discretion of the government undermines the foundational principles of individual liberty and self-defence. Such a perspective fails to recognise that rights are not granted by the state but are inherent to individuals.

The absence of an explicit constitutional provision for firearm ownership does not negate the implied right to self-defence enshrined in the Constitution’s guarantees of freedom, security, and protection from violence. As affirmed by the Constitutional Court, the right to defend oneself using appropriate means is implicit in the broader framework of individual rights outlined in the Constitution.

Fundamental aspect

The Constitutional Court’s recognition of self-defence as a fundamental aspect of personal security underscores the implicit right of individuals to possess firearms for self-protection. Section 12 of the Constitution guarantees freedom and security of the person, including protection from violence, while section 11 safeguards the right to life. T

hese provisions, read in conjunction with the right to own private property, imply a broader right to self-defence using appropriate means, including firearms, when faced with imminent danger. The right to own a firearm for self-defence is not merely implied by constitutional principles but is an essential component of justice and personal security in South Africa.

In a nation where government leaders simultaneously seek to disarm South Africans while losing firearms or failing to account for them, the imperative for change is undeniable. The juxtaposition of these realities underscores a continued systemic failure in law enforcement accountability and a disregard for the fundamental right to self-defence. As citizens grapple with escalating crime rates and pervasive insecurity, the need for urgent change is undeniable.

Glaring disconnect

In the wake of the recent court ruling compelling the SAPS to account for the destruction of firearms, the glaring disconnect between government leaders’ calls to disarm citizens and the systemic failures within law enforcement to safeguard firearms underscores an urgent need for change.

The call for accountability and reform within the police has never been more pressing than it is today. It is time to reassess the centralised model of policing and explore alternatives that prioritise transparency, responsiveness, and community engagement.

Devolving policing powers to provincial or local levels offers a promising path forward, empowering communities to hold law enforcement agencies more directly accountable. Moreover, the need for communities to take their safety and security into their own hands has never been more apparent.

While government incompetently destroys, (or not?), firearms, South Africans should create strong community policing initiatives, promote neighbourhood watch programmes, attend self-defence training and make plans for their own safety. By fostering a culture of proactive community engagement and empowerment, and not handing over your firearms to the police, South Africans can begin to take their safety into their own hands.

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This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission

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