Military rocked by stolen grenades fiasco
Dozens of hand grenades were stolen off the back of a bakkie yesterday, leading to suggestions that military transportation rules had been flouted.
The theft occurred as the driver of the bakkie and his assistant - both from Rheinmetall Denel Munitions - took a nap at a truck stop outside Pretoria in the early hours of the morning.
The theft has raised concerns that although not deadly, the hand grenades could land in the hands of criminals, who could use them in the commission of violent crimes, such as cash-in-transit robberies.
There are also fears that unsuspecting people, especially children, could seriously injure themselves if they pull the pins of the live grenades.
The two men had apparently driven through the night from Cape Town to deliver the 70 M9143 illuminating hand grenades and other military munitions to army depots in Limpopo and Gauteng.
The munitions were stored in a padlocked box in the back of the open Toyota bakkie.
The theft, which took place at the Total Petroport garage on the N1, north of Pretoria, was allegedly one of several that took place when thieves broke into trucks at the petrol station on Tuesday night.
The driver and his assistant have always transported explosives to the military bases without any escort.
Rheinmetall Denel Munitions CEO Norbert Schulze said the stolen munitions were pyrotechnics destined for bases and depots in Naboomspruit and Paardefontein.
"The munitions were for training purposes. The grenades contained no explosives and will not cause injury," he said.
Schulze said the vehicle, driver and his assistant were licensed to transport the munitions.
"The police knew what we were transporting and where and when we were transporting the items. All the relevant documents were in place and we were following all the necessary regulations," Schulze said.
But SA National Defence Union secretary-general Pikkie Greeff said regulations had been flouted.
"Munitions should be transported in a far more secure manner. There are prescripts of how munitions can be transported.
"They definitely do not include being transported in a padlocked box in the back of an open bakkie," he said.
Greeff said such theft posed major public safety concerns.
The driver said he and his assistant were ahead of schedule when they decided to stop and take a nap shortly before 5am.
"Before falling asleep, I saw three men walking nearby, but thought they were truck drivers stretching their legs."
He said it was the first time they had stopped at the petrol station.
"We were ahead of schedule and not far from our destination, so we decided to sleep.
"When we woke up at 6am we saw the container at the back of the bakkie had been broken open and five containers were missing. We heard absolutely nothing while we were asleep," he said.
Three of the containers, some of which had 40mm rounds of ammunition, were later found abandoned in the bush by police.
A police officer said a number of theft cases had been reported at the truck stop over a period of time.
Denel's Pam Malinda declined to comment, referring questions to Rheinmetall Denel Munitions.
Schulze said an internal investigation into the theft would be conducted. He said as far as he could ascertain, the driver and his assistant did not do anything wrong.
"They performed a routine fuel stop. What is clear is that something somehow went wrong. We will ensure this does not happen again," he said.
Tiyani Rikhotso, the spokesman for the Department of Transport, said there were regulations governing the transportation of munitions and pyrotechnics.
"A vehicle transporting such materials must meet the necessary safety requirements, its safety features must be certified and it must have the necessary protective features," he said.
SA National Defence Force spokesman Siphiwe Dlamini said the munitions were the property of Denel.
He said the force was waiting for a report from investigators.