An armed society

Bishop Lavis police have confiscated another R5 rifle in Bonteheuwel – the second one in three months. This fully automatic assault weapon can fire 700 rounds in one minute with a firing range of 400m, and it belongs on a battlefield.

Brigadier Christopher Jones, Bishop Lavis SAPS station commander, confirmed the second R5 rifle was found in Syringa Street last week, together with 26 rounds of ammunition.

The first R5 rifle was found in Assegaai Road, three months ago, with 35 rounds of ammunition and two bullet-proof vests. (“Peace Talks,” Athlone News, April 20). In addition to this, two Uzi automatic weapons were confiscated in Netreg. An Uzi has a range of 200m and fires up to 600 rounds a minute. The Uzis are linked to the case against four people who were arrested in connection with the robbery and murder of Metrorail train driver Pieter Botha, who was killed at Netreg station on Monday July 11. (“Rolling tragedies on tracks”, Athlone News, July 13)

Alan Martheze, from Gun Owners South Africa, said an R5 rifle is so powerful that it “over-penetrates”, and whatever it hits, the bullets come out the other side.

Mr Martheze said it is illegal for civilians to own fully automatic weapons. R5 rifles are only issued to South African National Defence Force troops and SAPS and Department of Correctional Services officers.

Asked whether these weapons could be linked to a case against businessman and suspected gun smuggler Irshaad Laher, who stands accused of selling 2 000 stolen police weapons to gangsters on the Cape Flats, Brigadier Jones said itwas too soon to confirm that.

“These weapons will be sent for tests and investigations are under way. It is only after the investigations have been concluded, that one can confirm the origins of these weapons,” he said.

Mr Laher is accused of buying the stolen weapons – whichwere supposed to be destroyed – from former Vereeniging police colonel Christiaan Prinsloo and selling it to gangsters. Prinsloo is serving an 18-year prison sentence. PUT IN HEADLINE AND DATE

Brigadier Jones, speaking at a public meeting called by the Bonteheuwel Joint Peace Forum (JPF), on Sunday July 24, at the Bonteheuwel Assembly of God church, said community tip-offs had led to the arrests and weapons seizures.

He gave feedback to the community after the JPF presented the SAPS with a memorandum in response to escalating gang violence in the area in recent months. It called for more resources for the area and visible policing. It appealed for an end to “quick police bail” and asked how the SAPS planned to deal with gang violence.

Brigadier Jones conceded that the SAPS does not have a 24-hour presence in Bonteheuwel. “However, we do have a plan, but we cannot give it to you, as this is tactical information. We are aware that the gang leaders send their representatives to public meetings like this, in order to give them a report-back”.

He said the police operated on four pillars – the community, detectives, visible policing and intelligence. “We cannot do this without the community’s help,” he said.

He said gang violence had “escalated sharply” in February and June.

”I must also point out, that in all the gang violence cases, we oppose bail in each case. Our detectives have a profile of the person, and all the cases he was involved in and what gang he belongs to, by the time they need to testify in court. However, the suspects’ lawyers would sometimes ask for another bail hearing, as ‘new evidence emerged’ in the case, and with the second bail hearing, the police are not informed about it, and the suspect then sometimes gets bail. It doesn’t depend on SAPS whether the suspects get bail or not.”

Brigadier Jones said people were also often too scared to testify, making it easier for the perpetrators to get off the hook.

Over the past year, more than 20 people in Bonteheuwel were convicted for the possession of illegal firearms, and that across South Africa, 21 people walked away from witness protection.

He also appealed to community to not stop with their activism when the area becomes “quiet”.

“The national SAPS’ Operation Combat works, but my appeal to you is to look into the social problems of the community as well. Our parents know their child is bringing guns home, and they must speak up,” he said.

Some residents told Brigadier Jones that theywere often told that there were not enough police vehicles to respond to a crime, or it was difficult to get through on the telephone to report a matter.

When Brigadier Jones replied that people had a “perception” that the police were doing nothing, resident Henriette Abrahams said: “What we are experiencing are lived realities, not perceptions. In our community, we don’t have a culture of ‘piemping’ (snitching) – it’s a lonely and cold place. You pointed out visible policing in your feedback, but the reality is that we are not seeing enough of you in our area.”

Judith Kennedy, JPF chairperson, thanked Brigadier Jones for his feedback, adding that the root causes of the gang violence and all that goes with it, was a capitalist system that prioritises the rich at the expense of the poor.

“As the JPF, we have put together a range of alternatives for our young people. We were instrumental in the set-up of the Third Bonteheuwel Scouts, Rainbow Hiking Club, there’s the Jazz Yard Academy, Boundary Table Tennis Club, and many other initiatives. We are tired of marching and petitions over the past three years. The emphasis now is to create alternatives.

“Young people join gangs because they need a place to belong. Our efforts to create alternatives do not mean that we cannot take on the government and SAPS. We also need to address the municipal and social ills and restore pride and dignity in the area. We will guard this community with our life – not for us, but for our children and grandchildren, so that they do not have to live in fear. As the JPF, we welcome people from across political affiliations, but we are appealing that people must leave their party politics behind when dealing with our community’s matters,” Ms Kennedy said.

If you have information on criminal activities, contact the Bishop Lavis SAPS tip-off line at 082 411 2516, and to ask for police presence, call 082 522 3340.

aption 1: Brigadier Christopher Jones, Bishop Lavis SAPS station commander, addressed the community of Bonteheuwel about plans to curb gang violence.

Caption 2: Residents listened attentively to one of the speakers.

Caption 3: Neville Haupt said it becomes frustrating to try to report a matter, but are not able to get through to the police station, or is told that there are no police vehicles available.