SAPS IN CRISIS: SA’s ‘dire’ gun controls are uniting opposition firearm groups – dealers’ association speaks out

SAPS IN CRISIS: SA’s ‘dire’ gun controls are uniting opposition firearm groups – dealers’ association speaks out

SAPS IN CRISIS: SA’s ‘dire’ gun controls are uniting opposition firearm groups – dealers’ association speaks out

The South African Arms and Ammunition Dealers’ Association (Saaada) represents various individuals and trades, including gun manufacturers and importers, and works to protect their rights, while Gun Free South Africa works to reduce firearm violence in the country.

The two organisations, based on their names alone, may not always see eye to eye. But both vehemently agree that the state of firearm controls in South Africa is nowhere near up to scratch.

On Tuesday, 11 July 2023, Gun Free South Africa and the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum released a report on The State of the Central Firearms Registry in South Africa: Challenges and Opportunities. It focuses on the Central Firearms Registry, also referred to as the Central Firearms Register (CFR), which falls under the South African Police Service (SAPS).

It highlighted several problems at the CFR, including previously picked-up cop corruption, saying the police should not be relied on to properly manage guns in this country and that tighter oversight mechanisms are needed.

Gun Free South Africa researcher Claire Taylor, one of the report’s authors, said: “Recognising that although most gun crime is committed with illegal guns, almost all illegal guns were once legal. 

“This means we must close the taps from which these legal guns are leaking into the illegal pool, and this requires tightening controls over legal weapons stocks through effective recordkeeping.”

‘Dire situation’

On Thursday, 13 July, Saaada issued a statement in response to that.

“This… is partly in response to the recent Gun Free South Africa report into the Central Firearms Registry and media comments made by one of its authors, Claire Taylor,” it said.

“The fact that opposing organisations appear to agree on proposed solutions to the disastrous state of the Central Firearms Registry is indicative of how dire the situation is in the Central Firearms Registry.”

According to the statement, Saaada was locked in an ongoing five-year legal battle with police bosses over the digitisation of the CFR. 

Daily Maverick reported that in mid-May 2023 there appeared to be some improvement at the CFR in terms of record keeping, which was paper-based, not digital.

At the same time though, Parliament’s police committee “urged SAPS and the State Information Technology Agency to find solutions to challenges experienced in the procurement of the new firearms control system, which will enable electronic capturing and digitisation of firearms applications”.

Outdated record-keeping

The police committee added: “The paper-based system is outdated and can lead to misplacement of certain documents, thereby delaying applications.”

According to Saaada, the Firearms Control Act, which has been in force for nearly two decades, states that the police have to digitise transactions between dealers, the CFR and third parties.

“When the act was promulgated, such digitisation did not exist and in 2010 the so-called Waymark tender to digitise information processing worth R400,000,000 (Four Hundred Million Rand) was voided and deemed to be fruitless and wasted expenditure,” Saaada said.

The “Waymark tender” involved a contract dating back nearly 20 years that led to potential costs of more than R400-million and an internal police investigation.

Saaada’s statement on Thursday said that since 2018 it had been involved in a legal dispute with Police Minister Bheki Cele and the national police commissioner, who is now Lieutenant-General Fannie Masemola.

This had been regarding the digitisation of records.

Missed court order deadline

On 5 August 2019 an order was issued in the North Gauteng High Court, in the form of a structural interdict which Saaada said “provides that such digitisation should have taken place over a period of four years”.

Part of that court order stated: “The process, design and implementation of the system required to establish such electronic connectivity shall be completed not later than 31 July 2022.”

However, Saaada said on Thursday that “the tender to digitise the system” was only awarded this year.

In May the matter of digitisation was addressed in Parliament, where it was heard that the SAPS could be in contempt of court.

The minutes of that meeting read: “SAPS had failed to meet the deadline of a court order handed down in 2019, to implement the digitisation of its records. SAPS do not have proper control over firearms and ammunition.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘An unmitigated firearms crisis’ — Parliament hears cops are firing blanks on proper firearm control

Daily Maverick reported at the time that in response to the court matter relating to electronic records, Masemola told Parliament that the State Information Technology Agency awarded a contract to deal with it on 5 April 2023.

In reference to the state of the CFR, Masemola had said: “We do acknowledge we have not yet reached the desired level.”

Saaada’s Thursday statement said it had tried to get the SAPS to provide timeframes for the digitisation of records.

It concluded: “The deteriorating state of control of firearms in South Africa and the Central Firearms Registry and the rampant crime that has resulted therefrom can be laid directly at the doors of the minister and the various national commissioners who have been in office since 2004.” DM