Police 'confused' over national gun probe and anti-gang law

2017-09-06 06:21
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Cape Town - Two of the country's top police officers, including the national commissioner, appear oblivious to stringent anti-gang laws, according to a report on a recent meeting.

And when it comes to South Africa's biggest ever gun smuggling investigation, senior cops have vastly differing accounts about what happened to it. 

This as gangsterism has increasingly become a countrywide problem and gun violence, particularly in the Western Cape, appears to have surged.

In one of the latest incidents in Cape Town, where ongoing and intensifying gang wars have resulted in dozens of gun battles recently, a 7-year-old boy was shot dead in Grassy Park on Sunday, August 3.

A national police investigation into the smuggling of stolen police guns previously revealed that more than 261 children in the Western Cape were shot with the weapons between 2010 and 2016 and 1 066 murders were committed.

It is this controversial investigation that police now have vastly different views of.

Anti-gang legislation

The Prevention of Organised Crime Act (Poca) deals specifically with gangsterism and gang-related activities.

According to the act, it is an offence to actively participate in, or be a member of, a criminal gang.

Anyone who incites others to join a criminal gang, or who conducts any criminal activity with the assistance of a criminal gang, is also breaking the law.

However, some of the country's top cops seem to have overlooked this, while some feel that much stronger legislation is needed.

Details about their views are contained in a report of a meeting about, among other matters, a national anti-gang strategy, held by the police portfolio committee on August 23.

News24 has a copy of the summary and report on the meeting.

It said in February 2017 a national anti-gang strategy was approved by Cabinet.

'Laughable' sentences for gangsters

Acting National Police Commissioner Lesetja Mothiba, according to a record of the meeting, said that gangsterism had a long history.

"He [Mothiba] proposed that legislation which outlawed the formation and membership of a gang (sic)," it said.

"Some of the sentences given to gang members have been laughable."

Deputy national commissioner of policing Lieutenant General Sehlahle Masemola told the meeting that there may be a need for more legislative powers. 

"Unfortunately the courts require a lot of proof beyond reasonable doubt," the meeting report recorded him as saying.

"Being a gang member or belonging to this category of gangs - such as the 27s, 28s - should be an offence and should maybe be looked at in the future."

'Proposed law already exists'

But this is what Poca addresses.

ANC MP Leonard Ramatlakane, according to the meeting report, said he was surprised to hear the views of the police's top management on anti-gang laws as what they envisioned already existed.

"These powers in law exist," Ramatlakane said, adding that 10 gangs, including the Americans gang, had been outlawed.

"Why is this existing judgment not being used?... There needs to be use of this existing legal precedent." 

Ramatlakane also needled police about Project Impi - the national investigation into gun smuggling which looked into illegal firearms, some stolen from the police service with the help of officers, which were being channelled within the country, as well as across the border.

Project Impi was launched in December 2013 in the Western Cape by police officers Major General Jeremy Vearey and Major General Peter Jacobs. 

In June 2016 the two were transferred within the police - changes they found unfair and politically motivated.

They successfully took on police management in the Cape Town Labour Court which in August 2017 set aside their transfers. But the police service is still pushing ahead with their transfers.

Guns probe 'confusion'

The two said after they were transferred in 2016, Project Impi disintegrated. 

A report on the project was included in Vearey and Jacobs' Labour Court papers.

It said Lieutenant Colonel Clive Ontong, who was also leading the probe into the firearms, had reported that his provincial investigating team had been reduced to four detectives.

In a sworn statement, Ontong said in September 2016 he applied to go to Gauteng to get a witness placed under protection as part of the investigations.

"I was told by Lieutenant Colonel Geldenhuys from the provincial finance office that Project Impi was not renewed and he would not make funds available. I thus could not go to Gauteng," it said.

During the police portfolio committee meeting, Ramatlakane asked why it seemed as if the police were "suffocating" the project.

He also asked why it had not been supported, despite there being complaints about the state of Project Impi by prosecutors.

An apparent recurring problem, Ramatlakane said, was that when new police management came into a unit skilled individuals were moved to the periphery.

He wanted to know what the benefit of this was.

'In disarray'

Mothiba, according to the meeting record, said "many of the actions of Project Impi were in disarray".

Members were transferred out of the project, but he said he did not know why.

Mothiba said they had since returned and Project Impi was now being run by the Hawks.

Ramatlakane persisted, asking why police in the Western Cape had worked against Project Impi.

But Western Cape police commissioner Khombinkosi Jula denied that was the case.

He said at no stage was Project Impi not supported in the Western Cape.

Deputy national commissioner for management interventions, Lieutenant General Gary Kruser, said there had been some challenges regarding Project Impi.

These issues had been referred for investigation.

"In analysis, too many people were dealing with the same thing and therefore resources were not being used wisely," the record of the meeting said.

National firearms team

"It was agreed that the Hawks would come into the operational command centre and firearms will be dealt with by all the units in a collective desk."

Project Impi had therefore been absorbed into this collective desk.

"There will be a collaborated and integrated approach with fixed detectives, intelligence operative and forensics people attached," the meeting report said.

"It will be led by the Hawks in terms of expertise in dealing with guns. The detectives and operational people will come from the police."

The task force clamping down on illegal firearms did not appear to be complete yet.

Acting Hawks head Yolisa Matakata said she did not yet have a date for when the Hawks firearms unit would be finalised.

"The approved structures have been put on hold for labour consultations."

Read more on:    hawks  |  cape town  |  crime  |  police

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