Devon Police Station in Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, was robbed of its firearms on Wednesday (5 October 2022) – bringing the total of SAPS stations that have been robbed of their weapons to eight in 2022 alone.

This has sparked criticism from several bodies, including the South African Gunowners Association (SAGA), saying that the South African Police Service (SAPS) is mandated to secure the citizens of the republic and their property against crime and violence, but are themselves failing at securing their own stations.

According to SAGA’s Gideon Joubert, 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.

The 158 firearms that disappeared from the evidence room at the Norwood Police Station in Johannesburg in January 2022 is just the tip of the iceberg, reported the City Press.

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, the City Press said.

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,” Joubert said in an interview with eNCA.

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.

In a separate interview with eNCA, the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) spokesperson Richard Mamabolo said that the main reason for these firearm robberies taking place is because police stations are largely under-resourced – especially those that are in townships and rural areas.

He added that when engaged in discussions regarding this issue with the relevant authorities, the outcome always falls back on limited budgets, preventing police stations from receiving the resources required to combat the robberies.

Mamabolo noted that the finance minister cut the budget to the SAPS by R15.8 billion in 2022, intending to cut the budget even further by R11.2 billion in 2023.

This has resulted in a reduction of the number of well-trained staff within police stations nationwide, he said.

There have been several warnings over the declining number of police officials in South Africa, with analysts and unions noting with concern that new hires are unable to keep pace with the number of officers who are retiring.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said in August that South Africa needs a more capable police force to curb rising crime rates in the country – adding that funding hsa been set aside for thousands of officers to be trained.

Police minister Bheki Cele noted that some 12,000 new officers would be added – however, union Cosatu said this would be undermined by the 10,000 or so officers who are retiring. Over the years, police headcount has dropped from 197,000 five years ago to 172,000 today, the union said.

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