KZN’s gun collectors

2016-11-02 06:01
Pietermaritzburg Public  Order Policing unit commander Colonel Alfred Hlongwane, who was the mastermind behind the highly successful Firearm Tracing Unit in the city. PHOTO: IAN CARBUTT

Pietermaritzburg Public Order Policing unit commander Colonel Alfred Hlongwane, who was the mastermind behind the highly successful Firearm Tracing Unit in the city. PHOTO: IAN CARBUTT

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IMAGINE traversing through thick bush, creeping up to a fortified homestead and kicking down the door, not knowing what fate awaits you.

This is the daily routine of a group of elite and dedicated police officers who go beyond the call of duty to clean up the streets of illegal firearms and ammunition.

With the motto that one bullet has the potential to take one life, the 14 officers in the Firearm Tracing Team confiscate an average of 200 illegal guns per year, hunting down their owners and securing successful convictions.

But the job is not an easy one.

The team’s commander, Captain Ashwin Mohanpersad, described the dangers that surround a day in the office for his members.

“It is a different game all together. We park our vehicles kilometres away from the target and wade through dense bushes, forests and plains while it is pitch dark,” Mohanpersad said.

“In a valley of homesteads for example, you have to be extra careful because you cannot be noticed. Once you hit one home, the other targets are notified immediately. Then there is the issue of dogs and live wires.”

The team strategically endeavour to get to their targets, and when they finally approach the home, they can never be too sure of what is awaiting them behind closed doors.

“If you become too complacent, you land up in big danger,” Mohanpersad said.

“We work on information from the community and information from various police intelligence units.”

The team was the brainchild of Pietermaritzburg Public Order Policing (POP) commander Colonel Alfred Hlongwane and the officers fall under his branch.

In the five years that the team have been together, they have cleaned the province of about 1 000 weapons — which is over and above the unit’s primary mandate of crowd management.

“The team focus on four police clusters in the Midlands but also stretch themselves into other parts of the province. They do not only recover firearms, but also ammunition, stolen vehicles, drugs, housebreaking implements and other dangerous weapons,” Hlongwane said.

“We have the best officers. I can call them out at any time and they will respond.”

Speaking about their most memorable cases, Mohanpersad said on the way back from arresting five suspects and recovering 18 guns in Muden, the team were alerted to brewing faction fights in the area and discovered guns buried in a dried-up river bed.

Last week, the team also found a 90 mm mortar shell in an area near Kranskop.

Describing the trends in illegal firearm usage, Mohanpersad said illegal weapons are commonly brought over the border and are sent to Gauteng, where they are distributed to townships in KwaZulu-Natal.

“You can buy a revolver for about R300 and an AK47 for about R500. That is how easily accessible it is,” Mohanpersad said.

“When it comes to renting out weapons, this usually happens when the male breadwinner in a homestead died and his widow has no income. If he had a gun, she would rent it out to community members for next to nothing.”

By taking illegal firearms out of communities, the team play a vital role in preventing serious and violent crimes like robbery and murder.

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