Caryn Dolley and Jenna Etheridge, News24
And loopholes in firearms legislation may have made this easier.
News24 also understands there are fears that in some cases, the firearms secretly smuggled out of the border may have been used against South African soldiers stationed in other countries.
While scores of the weapons, including rocket launchers, were intercepted before being taken out of South Africa, sources say many more were taken across borders and are being used in conflict zones.
There are also fears that stolen military weapons could be stockpiled and used against the state.
News24 is in possession of a National Prosecuting Authority letter to the Western Cape police commissioner, dated August last year, about a mammoth firearms probe.
Loopholes in legislation
The letter details why the removal of the lead investigator in the matter could “prove to be detrimental”.
It goes on to say that an initial firearms investigation had been broadened.
It says information had surfaced on “how loopholes in the firearms legislation and regulations are used to facilitate trans-border smuggling of firearms to other countries from South Africa”.
“Further investigation is therefore required into the import and export of firearms by individuals and or arms dealers for illicit means and this possible violation of South Africa’s arms embargoes and international protocols of which South Africa is a signatory.”
The letter said that a probe into an arms dealer had “demonstrated that firearms could possibly be stockpiled for crimes against the state by right-wing groups”.
In December 2015, police officers uncovered thousands of rounds of ammunition, silencers, weapons, and Nazi and AWB paraphernalia during a raid on an elderly man’s flat in Bothasig, Cape Town.
Keith Conroy, 71, said to have been one of the late Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader Eugene Terre’Blanche’s right-hand men, was later arrested and charged.
The letter said the initial probe had spurred another investigation into “the theft of firearms from military bases stockpiled possibly for crimes against the state by right-wing groups”.
Apart from the smuggling of the SANDF weapons for fighting, a source has told News24 that military guns were being channelled for another reason – to meet the demand of an underground market where collectors vie to get weapons used in wars and battles.
The more a firearm has been used in warfare, the higher its value.
The SANDF did not respond to detailed questions sent by News24 on Wednesday.
The SA Police Service said it would provide comment later.
“We will attend to it… it requires a lot of attention across different fields,” spokesperson Sally de Beer said.
A case highlighting how SANDF weapons may have ended up in the wrong hands is set to be heard in the Western Cape High Court.
Rondebosch businessman Irshaad Laher and arms dealer Alan Raves are set to go on trial for their alleged roles in a syndicate which involved police officers and which saw at least 2 000 firearms meant to be destroyed, sold instead.
Scores of firearms were apparently sold to gangsters around Cape Town.
Over 2 000 guns stolen
According to an amended indictment in the matter, Raves was accused of stealing 18 weapons from the Durban Light Infantry, a regiment of the SANDF, between September 2012 and September 2015.
He was also accused of stealing, between 2007 or 2008 and January 2015, a further 15 weapons from the SANDF and police.
Some of these stolen weapons, according to the amended indictment, included:
• Vickers 7.62mm machine gun (Sources have said this is sometimes referred to as a “chainsaw” because of how it rips apart targets. This type of weapon can be mounted in a plane, a tank or bakkie.);
• Vektor SS 77 machine gun, which News24 understands was still a prototype when it was stolen;
• Gorjunov light machine gun;
• RPD light machine gun.
Raves, along with Laher, is also accused of buying guns from ex-police officer Chris Prinsloo of Vereeniging, who was recently sentenced to 18 years behind bars after entering a plea and sentence agreement with the State.
Prinsloo, a former police colonel, was in charge of the police armoury and stole 2 400 guns over almost a decade.
According to the amended indictment, Raves allegedly offered Prinsloo and another police officer R100 000 for firearms and ammunition. He was charged with stealing firearm parts, between 300 and 400 rifles, and up to 20 000 rifle cartridges.
The pair faced a raft of charges ranging from racketeering and corruption, to theft and possession of prohibited firearms.
They are next due in court on May 12.