Pretoria - There are more than 3 000 police officers in the country, who have been equipped with a firearm, but have not yet passed training declaring them competent to handle them.
In reply to a Parliamentary question by the DA, it was revealed that 3 473 police officers, who were are not yet declared competent to handle a firearm, were still carrying them, and a staggering 11 334 police officers did not have their competency certificates.
The answer from the police ministry does not elaborate on how many, if any at all, of the 11 334 officers have been given a firearm.
Police Minister Fikile Mbalula's spokesperson Vuyo Mhaga said the case of the 3 473 police officers carrying firearms, before being declared competent, was purely an administrative issue.
"They don’t update the system," said Mhaga, explaining that these police officers had handed their firearms back after being declared incompetent, and that the systems had just not been updated.
He said those that needed to hand back there firearms, as well as those who had no competency certificate, had been forced to do it as a result of medical conditions, post-traumatic stress, and other factors that had led to them not being declared competent to use a firearm.
He said these officers would be moved to other units until such time as they "become competent again".
'Police are not subject to the same standards'
Gun expert and lobbyist Martin Hood told News24 that police officers who had not completed firearm training should not be given a firearm, however, he said the police operated in a legal loophole in terms of gun control.
Hood said there was nothing illegal about officers of the law carrying guns without completing the necessary training, and that the police were exempt from the Firearms Control Act.
"They (police) determine their own training, they make their own standards, that means they can make it as good or as bad as they want to," said Hood.
He added that, because the police were exempt from the act, they were not held to the same standards as a civilian who wanted to own a firearm. Carrying a firearm without the necessary competency certificate was not a punishable offence because they did not need to subscribe to that legislation.
"Civilians are subject to a uniform legislated training that has checks and balances to ensure that it is done and done properly. Police are not subject to the same standards."
He added that this was a major shortcoming in the act, as police already had a history of poor performance in terms of firearm training.
'Puts the South African public in danger'
Hood said this loophole meant that the police were able to decide which police officers could carry firearms and the types of training and competencies they needed.
In its reply, the police ministry said the South African Police Service did not issue firearm licences to police officials, but firearm permits instead.
"The firearm permit will be issued, subject to the provision that a police official proves that he/she, possesses a competency declaration. This is a declaration stating that a police official is a fit and proper person to possess a firearm and that the police official successfully completed training, in the safe handling of a firearm."
DA MP Dianne Kohler Barnard: "SAPS have failed to ensure that thousands of police officials are in fact fit to have and use their guns. This not only puts the South African public in danger, but also the police officials themselves."
* This story has been updated to reflect that comment was obtained by the ministry.