Criminals fear nothing: Experts warn mass killings could continue if illegal gun trade is not addressed

06 February 2023 - 13:48 By SINESIPHO SCHRIEBER
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A policing expert warns more mass shootings could happen if there is no strengthening of capacity in the criminal justice system. File photo.
A policing expert warns more mass shootings could happen if there is no strengthening of capacity in the criminal justice system. File photo.
Image: Antonio Muchave

More lives could be lost in mass shootings if the police service’s capacity and efforts to eliminate the illegal gun trade are not strengthened.

This is according to a policing analyst and an anti-crime non-governmental organisation who spoke to TimesLIVE about the growing phenomenon of mass shootings in the country.

Gun Free South Africa director Adèle Kirsten said the 18 people recently killed in the Eastern Cape in two mass shootings and the 16 killed with rifles in a tavern in Soweto last July would not be the last because of the growing illegal gun trade.

“It is clear government did not use the 2021 massacres to develop a plan to deal with gun violence or mass shootings because we have not seen changes. If there is a strategy, it is not effective,” Kirsten said.

She said in many cases when perpetrators of gun violence-related crimes are arrested, the weapons are not recovered.

“That gun continues to circulate and is used to kill more people. The pressure must be on the police to arrest and recover the guns. Police need to reduce the number of guns in our society. This was done before, in the early 2000s.”

Kirsten said most guns used by criminals are stolen from licensed owners. According to the organisation around 9,855 weapons are reported stolen every year.

 “Guns are stolen from police stock, some come from cross border trade, and others are attained through corruption in law enforcement entities.”

Kirsten said police officers were vulnerable to gun-thirsty criminals.

“Police officers and farmers are often targeted because the criminals know they have guns and  will try by all means to get a gun.”

Among officers killed and their guns stolen are:

  • W/O Ntshidi Marutla, 52, who was fatally stabbed during a stop and search operation in Rosettenville in Johannesburg on New Year’s Day and his service pistol stolen.
  • Linden police station detective W/O Anton Seeber, who was shot and killed at his home on December 29 2022 and his service pistol stolen.
  • On October 13 2022, 29-year-old Const Khotso Malahlela and 45-year-old Sgt Vusimuzi Batsha of the Boksburg North police station were shot and killed. The two officers were on duty and were killed while waiting for a mortuary van. Their pistols and bulletproof vests were stolen.
  • Cons Donay Delano Phillips of Sea Point station died on May 8 2022 after he was shot with his own gun by a man who was a patient at the New Somerset Hospital.

Police officers killed in the line of duty.
Police officers killed in the line of duty.
Image: SAPS media

Police commissioner Gen Fannie Masemola said killing police officers for their service pistols undermined the authority of the state.

Policing expert Dr Johan Burger told TimesLIVE more mass shootings would happen if the capacity of the criminal justice system is not strengthened.

“In the village of Shobashobane, KwaZulu-Natal, 19 people were killed on Christmas Day in 1995. The motive was said to be political killings but we have seen mass killings happen more frequently and are done by organised crime groups.”

He said groups such as zama zamas fighting over illegal mining territory, taxi industry killings and “construction mafias” that demand protection fees from businesses could worsen the death toll. Recent crime statistics showed murder increased by 13.6% by September last year.

“South Africa faces a serious threat in terms of transnational organised crime. Our crime levels have been on the increase for more than a decade. It started around 2011. Year by year, the murder rate has been increasing and at 46 per 100,000 people,” Burger said.

A syndicate demanding protection fees from businesses terrorised Mamelodi last year. The group, called Boko Haram, tormented the township. In 2021, eight people allegedly linked to the gang were killed, some shot dead in full view of their families and the public. No arrests were made.

Burger said police officers were understaffed and under-resourced and battled from corruption within the department.

“There is a growing gap between the number of officers we have for safety and security purposes and the size of the population. Recently they decreased the number of police officers by 13,000.”

Burger said the same problems affected the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA).

“The criminal justice system is under tremendous pressure because of the rise in crime and this is added to by the high rise in corruption exposed by the Zondo commission.

“With what remains of the capacity, is it sufficient to deal with the rise in crime, including mass shootings? The ANC acknowledges the criminal justice system does not have the capacity to fight the breakdown in security,” he said.

He said corruption in the police service weakened the department.

“Criminals saw the gaps within the justice system. They do not fear police. They believe they can get away with crime and that’s why there are high levels .”

Burger said to turn things around government needed to fulfil its promises to enhance the crime-fighting capacity of law enforcement agencies made by President Cyril Ramaphosa during his January 8 ANC statement.

 “The criminal justice system needs to rebuild its capacity, get rid of internal corruption, strengthen specialised police units and give them resources because there are units that do a good job.

“Political will is one thing that stands between and complete anarchy, That is what we are headed for  if government does not do the things the president promised on January 8.”

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