Defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula was grilled by MPs on Thursday night regarding the theft of weapons at military bases.
Mapisa-Nqakula was asked to brief parliament’s joint standing committee on defence and the theft of military weapons was key among the issues she was asked to account for.
This relates to the theft of 19 rifles from the Lyttelton SANDF base in Pretoria late last year which resulted in the arrest of members of the defence force.
Mapisa-Nqakula told the committee that suspects have since appeared in court and the case was ongoing, with all firearms having been recovered.
“There has been immediate investigation into the incident from the time it occurred in December 2019. This was conducted by the joint investigation team led by the military police … supported by the SA Police Services and the Hawks,” said Mapisa-Nakula.
She said the suspects appeared at court on Wednesday.
She had further told the committee that though she did not want to go into details of the case, commanders were being held accountable for the break-in as well.
MPs were, however, not impressed by the presentation, slamming the lax security at military bases and citing that there were at least three other cases of theft in the past three years.
DA MP Kobus Marais was the first to tear into the presentation, asking what the SANDF had done to hold accountable those who were in command at the time the thefts happened.
“We know that nobody can just drive in and drive out of a base without being searched … you must disclose what you [have] got,” said Marais.
He asked what was being done to hold accountable those who were in charge of registers at the time.
“Somehow we have to re-establish the [discipline] within the defence force and I think these are examples where we have to do that,” said Marais.
EFF MP Isaac Mafanya also criticised the SANDF over the Lyttelton theft.
“The issue of theft at Lyttelton leaves an impression that within the defence force there are rogue elements,” said Mafanya.
He said had the weapons not been recovered in time, they would have ended up in communities in the country.
Chairperson of the portfolio committee, Vusi Xaba, said repeated thefts at military bases undermine the authority of the state.
“In fact, it is an affront to all citizens. The more it happens, the more it raises questions as to whether these weapons are in fact properly looked after. It questions the safekeeping of these weapons. We must not wait until we get another break-in and theft of weapons and then conduct inquiries,” he said.
He asked for assurances that there would be no repeat of similar incidents.
Mapisa-Nqakula said though she was not justifying the matter, thefts of military weapons had been occurring since the days SA was transitioning into democracy.
“As people were integrating, people were looting and stealing firearms which belong to the state,” said Mapisa-Nqakula.
She said members of the SANDF were all subject to a security clearance and some involved in the thefts had top security clearance.
“I believe that people are recruited by criminal syndicates to steal firearms and therefore there is collusion when these things happen,” she said.