De Wet Potgieter
The backlog in gun licence renewals is so severe that the entire application processing system is on the verge of “collapsing”, an investigation by The New Age has revealed.
Sources in the South African Police’s Central Firearms Registry (CFR), speaking on condition of anonymity, said that officials were battling to clear the backlog but new applications were coming in everyday.
With 200000 applications already received, and only 1000 being processed each working day, exhausted officers at the Saps’ Criminal Record Centre (CRC) in Pretoria say they are barely making a dent on the ever-growing backlog.
Last year, Safety and Security Minister Nathi Mthethwa, said in a response to a question posed in Parliament that there had been 1365203 applications for the renewal of firearm licences in terms of the new Firearms Control Act (Firearms Act) since it came into effect. Of these applications, 499043 had been approved, 15766 denied and 2009 are on appeal. This meant that almost 850000 were still to be processed.
Besides dealing with applications sent to them for checking by the CFR, the centre is also responsible for checking criminal records for courts countrywide. The CFR also handles all applications for police clearances needed by people for a variety of purposes, including liquor licences and work permit applications.
“The police already owe us 96 hours overtime,” a senior civilian official at the centre said. “But there is no light in the tunnel. The problem lies with management at the CFR, they do not know what is going on.”
In Gauteng alone, the CRC needs to process at least 6000 renewal applications for firearm licences if they hope to make headway in clearing the backlog, another source at the centre said.
“The police simply do not have the capacity to cope,” said a member of the gun lobby group, which has been engaging with government on the licencing debacle.
“The mess at the CRC has been common knowledge for quite some time and even though they claim that the process has speeded up, this is clearly not happening. The people at CFR responsible for the evaluation of applications are not up to standard for this kind of job.”
And, as the backlog grows, more and more irate gun shop owners, security companies and individual firearm owners are turning to the courts, leaving government to defend damages claims running into millions of rand.
Pretoria attorney Jaco Kruger has sold off his general law practice to focus exclusively on lawsuits brought against police because of the shambles in the firearms industry.
“I am handling an average of 30 new such cases every month,” said Kruger, who has already handled more than 200 cases against the police.
Kruger said his court applications cost the government an average of R20000 each to defend – and he has already taken 45 such cases to the courts, with all the rulings being in favour of his clients.
The Black Gun Owners Association also resorted to the courts last year following claims by its chairman, Abios Khoele, that the Firearms Control Act placed black South Africans at a huge physical, educational and economical disadvantage, especially those most likely to suffer from violent crime, as well as the poor and the aged.
Between 2004, when the firearms licencing laws were changed, and 2010, 900 gun shops have closed down and 10000 people have lost jobs, Khoele told a press briefing last year.
His association represents 700000 people – of all races.