DURBAN - A RESEARCH report by a senior analyst at the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI-TOC) has revealed that “KwaZulu-Natal is the home of the hit man armed with an illegal firearm”.
Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane’s report, titled How to silence the guns? Southern Africa’s illegal firearms market, touched on the July unrest in which the issue of access to firearms and ammunition was brought into focus. Looters and community vigilante groups armed themselves, resulting in the deaths of more than 330 people in KZN and Gauteng.
“In Phoenix, outside Durban, 22 people were arrested. Police seized 152 firearms from private security companies operating in the area, and another 112 illegal firearms from residents. The arrests and seizures followed police investigations into the murder of 36 people in Phoenix,” read the report.
In 2018, GI-TOC identified KZN as accounting for 40% of all cases of assassinations in South Africa, including political killings, taxi hits as well as assassinations linked to organised crime activity.
During Project Impi, an investigation into illegal firearms sources, senior police officer Colonel Christiaan Lodewyk Prinsloo admitted that his network had been involved in supplying firearms taken from police stores to people involved in taxi conflicts in KZN.
The report said there were many reports of private security companies being involved in shoot-outs at taxi ranks, and alleged that those security companies carried out assassinations for their clients.
This view was also shared by a Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority (Psira) official who claimed in an interview for the report that one of the main reasons that some taxi bosses opened security companies was to provide cover for assassins.
Cape Town lawyer Piet Malik was gunned down outside his children’s school in October 2018. The head of the Western Cape Detective Service said the hitmen were taxi industry operators from KZN.
“In South Africa, it is not only gang bosses who have direct access to the original black-market source of the firearms; people involved in taxi violence in KZN and Gauteng, as well as cash-in-transit robbers, also appear to have access to these weapons as they enter the illicit market,” the report read.
Violence monitor Mary de Haas said the security industry was a big problem. New security companies popped up all the time, and they had guns and then no longer functioned as security companies.
“There should be a dedicated operation involving Psira to check on security companies because many of them are unregistered. Gun and ammunition shops also needed to be checked. The place to start is at the taxi ranks.
“The movement of guns, the hit men, they’re linked to the taxi industry and security industry.”
De Haas said the hitmen were poor black people from the townships, but they worked for syndicates – hijacking and organised crime – and the people who ran those syndicates were in the suburbs.
“The people there no doubt have illegal guns. They could also be hidden away there (suburbs) after a crime.”
Gun Free SA researcher Claire Taylor said most firearms used in crimes like political hits and taxi violence were illegal. By their nature, illegal guns were outside of any control, and the only way to deal with the current pool of illegal firearms was to recover and destroy them by way of police search and seizure or intelligence-led operations.
Legal guns needed to be prevented from leaking into the illegal pool through loss and theft. She said this involved requiring that all state departments had their firearms tested; report regularly on guns in their possession; had regular audits; developed clear policies for the storage and use of these firearms; and for those responsible to be held criminally liable for any dereliction of duty allowing for their loss, theft or illegal use.
“The increased demand for firearms by civilians following the recent riots and looting in KZN and Gauteng means the pool of legal guns in South Africa will increase. So we can expect gun-related crime to rise over the next few years as these newly licensed firearms are either illegally used, for example in domestic violence, or leak into the illegal pool through loss and theft.”