Over 1,000 murders in South Africa were committed using police guns

 ·4 Aug 2023

Thousands of police firearms have ended up in criminal hands in South Africa – either through theft or outright corruption – and these guns have been linked to at least 1,000 deaths over the last few years.

According to the South African Police Service (SAPS)’s latest crime statistics, acts of violent crimes – including murder – are growing across the country.

The data shows that South Africa’s murder rate has increased from roughly 30 murders per 100,000 to 44.66 murders per 100,000 over the last decade – totalling 77 murders a day on average.

In the first three months of 2023 alone, the number of murders increased by 3.4% year-on-year from 6,086 in Q4 2021/22 6,083 to 6,289.

The SAPS Q4 2021/22 showed that Firearms remain the most used weapon for murders, accounting for 2,629 of 6,068 murders.

However, some of these murders by firearms are committed using guns sold to criminals by the Police. In a recent parliamentary Q&A, it was revealed that 1,066 murders were committed and linked to police-issued firearms since 2016.

The parliamentary paper noted that, in 2016, two former police colonels confessed to selling over 2,000 firearms to gangs – and despite the recovery of some of these guns – SAPS estimated that around 1,000 of these weapons are still in circulation.

Guns and ammunition seized by SAPS. Source: SAPS

This instance and the number of murders committed using these police-issued firearms seem to be only the tip of the iceberg.

According to the South African Gunowners Association (SAGA), 10% of the SAPS’s firearms have been reported as lost or stolen over the past two decades, while 9.5 million rounds of ammunition have gone missing since 2016.

In the past five financial years, 3,405 official police firearms were stolen or went missing, while between 2005 and 2017, 26,025 firearms that were issued to police officers were stolen or could simply not be accounted for, according to a City Press report.

The firearms being stolen include assault rifles, handguns, and even explosives in some instances – and Joubert says the South African public is facing a crisis.

“I don’t want to be hyperbolic, but these robberies represent one of the most serious threats against public safety and national security at present,” said SAGA’s Gideon Joubert.

He added that these stolen firearms are and will likely be used in hijackings, transit heists, Zama Zama (illegal mining) wars, and criminal syndicate hits.

Joubert also noted that, when queried about the number of firearms and ammunition that have been lost or stolen, the SAPS said that it’s impossible to compile a national figure as it requires an extensive audit.

This response is similar to that given in the recent parliamentary Q&A. When asked for an update regarding the recovery of these firearms and what changes have been made to strengthen the control and regulation of guns in the police service, the minister simply said, “the process is still ongoing”.

He added that the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (DPCI) registered project Impi with the sole purpose of seizing firearms that were stolen and sold by SAPS members.

He further added that various firearms have indeed been recovered. However, these have resulted in numerous investigations to determine the origin of the firearms and whether such guns are linked to murders and other crimes – all of which are still ongoing.

Read: Criminals stocking up on guns from police stations in South Africa – here’s what they’re taking

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