Fake licences to kill

02 July 2014 - 02:20
By Caryn Dolley
ARMED TO THE TEETH: More than 300 guns, explosives as well as ammunition were found in a house in Norwood, north of Johannesburg. A man, his daughter and a domestic worker were arrested
Image: SYDNEY SESHIBEDI ARMED TO THE TEETH: More than 300 guns, explosives as well as ammunition were found in a house in Norwood, north of Johannesburg. A man, his daughter and a domestic worker were arrested

Thousands gun owners are believed to have obtained their licences illegally, making a farce of South African gun laws.

Now Gun Free South Africa has called on Police Minster Nkosinathi Nhleko to halt the issuing of any new firearm licences and to conduct a forensic audit of all licences issued since 2010.

It made the call at the same time as three Pretoria police officers who were based at the Central Firearms Register - Billy April, Priscilla Manganye and Mary Cartwright - and a suspected kingpin of the 28s gang, Ralph Stanfield, appeared in the Cape Town Magistrate's Court yesterday in connection with fraudulently issued firearm licences.

The officers are accused of fraudulently issuing gun licences to Stanfield.

They were arrested just months after 18 other police officers - including the section head of the Central Firearms Register, Brigadier Mathapelo Merriam Mangwane, and the section head of firearm compliance, Brigadier Hlamane Elias Mahlabane, were suspended for alleged involvement in licence fraud.

Citing these cases, Gun Free SA called for an audit of the Central Firearms Register and a moratorium on licences, saying: "Fraud and corruption in the licensing process allow guns to leak into the illegal pool of weapons; once there they are extremely difficult to mop up and, being robust commodities, are used repeatedly to commit crime."

The organisation said the Firearms Control Act of 2000 was meant to establish a "comprehensive and effective system of firearms control". That meant knowing who owned what weapon and for what purpose.

Gun Free SA spokesman Claire Taylor said police were failing in their implementation of the act.

She said a forensic audit on licences issued since 2010 should get police to prove, through paperwork, that due process had been followed.

More than 4million gun licences would have to be reviewed if the audit were to be ordered (SAPS reports show that 1048341 firearm applications were processed between November 2010 and August 2011 ).

Thousands of licences were issued every few months and it was believed a great percentage were fraudulent, Taylor said.

Martin Hood, a legal expert on firearms and a lobbyist for firearm dealers, hunters' associations and the security industry, said allegations of corruption in the issuing of firearm licences were not new.

"The problem has been in existence in excess of 10 to 15 years. We believe the police have manipulated and slowed the system down to create opportunities for corruption," Hood said.

But placing a moratorium on the issuing of licences would be unconstitutional, affecting people's right to trade freely. "It would bring the hunting, security and firearms industries to their knees."

Andre Pretorius, president of the Professional Firearm Trainers' Council, said an independent audit focusing on the police was "absolutely necessary".

Nhleko's spokesman, Musa Zondi, said it was too soon to say whether the minister would call for the moratorium and audit.

Zondi said Nhleko's stance reflected that of police commissioner Riah Phiyega, who said last week that the arrests showed how serious police were about fighting corruption.

How the scam works:

Police officers were allegedly bribed by fellow cops to hand over their user profiles.

The computer profile could then be manipulated, giving the impression that applicants had received the firearm training certificate and passed all background checks.

A complicit colleague at the Central Firearms Register then fast-tracked the applications.