2006-07-31 : When good guns turn bad


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2006-07-31 : When good guns turn bad

Postby GOSA » Tue, 2006-08-08 08:34


When good guns turn bad

Zukile Majova and Niren Tolsi

31 July 2006 07:14

The disappearance of dozens of firearms issued to the Durban metro police department has blown wide open the haphazard management of arms and ammunition by municipal police services.

State-issued firearms have been used in robberies and hijackings in Durban and surrounds, fuelling fears that criminals are buying guns from corrupt police officers. More than a hundred police guns may have entered the pool of illegal firearms in the area.

Already, two service pistols and one LM-5 assault rifle belonging to the Durban municipal police inner-west dog unit are the subject of two separate cases of robbery and hijacking.

The rifle recovered on the scene of a hijacking in January last year is being investigated by Chatsworth police. The two service pistols are listed as issued to constables Thembinkosi Mthethwa and S'thembiso Zimu, who reported them stolen after armed gangs on Durban’s western freeway hijacked the pair in July 2003.

A month later, in a gun battle with hijackers outside Durban, metro police constable Cherise Cox was shot in the stomach by one of the guns reported stolen by Mthethwa and Zimu. The second police service pistol was found at one of the suspect’s homes.

The investigating officer, Bruce McIness, said one of the suspects had stated in an affidavit that his co-criminal — who was killed in the shootout — told him that he bought the two 9mm pistols from two metro police officers.

This has fuelled calls for a thorough inquiry into the Cox shooting and an audit of the exact number of missing firearms.

A 2000 audit found that 133 of the more than 1 600 firearms issued to the 2000-strong Metro police force were missing. In 2003, metro police armourer Warren Burgess told the council 128 guns could not be accounted for.

This week, eThekwini municipal manager Mike Sutcliffe told the city’s executive committee that a probe he had conducted found that the pistol used to shoot Cox had indeed belonged to a metro police office, but had not necessarily been sold to criminals. He said he would report on his investigation and that metro police weapons would be subject to a further audit once a probe by the Independent Complaints Directorate was completed.

The Durban council gagged opposition parties to stop them from commenting publicly on the scandal, and barred the media from exco meetings discussing the missing firearms.

Sutcliffe has threatened newspapers and journalists with lawsuits, arguing that the municipality had been brought into disrepute by “irresponsible reporting”.

In his report, Sutcliffe accused police investigator McInnes of causing “great harm … to both Mthethwa and Zimu, and indeed to Cox, who believed to this day that she could have been shot with guns sold to criminals by her colleagues”.

Three years after the shooting Cox is still gravely ill in Addington Hospital. Complications resulting from her wound have made it impossible for her to return to the force.

John Steenhuisen, caucus leader of the opposition Democratic Alliance, said his party had been “vindicated by the report, which detailed problems in the management of the Durban metro police”.

Meanwhile, at least 19 firearms have been listed as missing from various departments of the Cape Town metro council. Mayor Helen Zille ordered an urgent audit in April after finding that state-issued guns, bulletproof vests and other equipment were unaccounted for.

At the time, the municipality’s corporate support management department could not account for seven firearms, while the department of health reported eight missing.
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