A book about ‘the deadliest crime’ of post-apartheid South Africa

Review: Vivien Horler

Give Us More Guns – How South Africa’s gangs were armed, by Mark Shaw (Jonathan Ball Publishers)

Three stories from just two days of the Cape Town news cycle:

  • Nafiz Modack arranged 2019 hand grenade hit on Charl Kinnear, State claims. – Daily Maverick April 9, 2021
  • Cape Amalgamated Taxi Association members have been urged to remain calm after their president, Victor Wiwi, was shot and killed along with another member. – Cape Times April 9, 2021
  • MEC for Community Safety Albert Fritz says he is “appalled” by the number of young people struck by stray bullets… on the Cape Flats. – News24 April 8, 2021

“Among those injured include Riaz Cloete, 8, who was shot in the head in Manenberg on Saturday afternoon (April 3) when playing (in) the road…; Chloe van der Westhuizen, 4, from Hanover Park … who was shot in the eye on March 25, and Declyn Wippenaar who was shot in the spine while playing in a football tournament in Philippi on Monday (April5).”

The man behind much of the gun violence on the Cape Flats is an Afrikaner called Christiaan Lodewyk Prinsloo, a former career police colonel who headed up the SAPS facility in Vereeniging where, from 2000, decommissioned and surrendered firearms were stored, pending their destruction.

Prinsloo is by all accounts a top firearms expert, but he realised around 2010 that in the new South Africa he wasn’t going to get the promotion and extra income he craved.

And so he started selling off firearms in his armoury, mainly via an intermediary believed to be Irshaad “Hunter” Laher, to gangs in the Western Cape and also to taxi bosses in KZN.

In this distressing book, investigative journalist Mark Shaw says the guns Prinsloo failed to destroy and sold on have been linked ballistically to 1 066 murders and some 1 403 attempted murders between 2010 and 2016.

“These numbers of killings mean that Prinsloo’s work is, without doubt, the deadliest single crime to have been committed in post-apartheid South Africa.”

Prinsloo was arrested in 2015. He told police investigators that the initial cache of firearms he sold to Cape Flats gangs from around 2007 numbered about 2 400.

Shaw began researching the story and says Prinsloo is likely to have illegally sold more than 9 000 police guns, which have over the years been distributed in places beyond the Western Cape.

Protestors gathered outside the Bellville Magistrate’s Court when he went on trial in June 2016. Community leader Saldeelah Petersen said at the time the guns sold “to our communities”  had led to over 17 000 killings.

Prinsloo was sentenced to 18 years’ imprisonment, a relatively short term thanks to his decision to sing like a canary and implicate others incuding Lahar. But in October 2020 it was reported that Prinsloo had been released, after serving not quite four years, and it was later stated, in response to a parliamentary question, that Prinsloo was in witness protection.

The index of Shaw’s book is a litany of the names of notorious criminals and dodgy citizens known to consumers of news, including Cyril Beeka, Colin Booysen, Jerome “Donkie” Booysen, Sanie American, the Gcaba brothers, Brett Kebble, Radovan Krejcir, Mark Lifman, Richard Mdluli, Nafiz Modack, Bobby Mongrel, Mikey Schultz, Ernie “Lastig” Solomon, the Staggie brothers, Colin and Ralph Stanfield and Yuri the Russian.

And then there are the cops, among them Peter Jacobs, Charl Kinnear, Jeremy Vearey, and the lawyers, including Michael Hulley, Vernon Jantjies and Pete Mihalik.

Capetonians live in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but for millions of people it is a terrifying place. By 2017/18, Cape Town’s homicide rate hit 70 murders per 100 000 people, making the city one of the most violent places on earth, including war zones.

That’s the average, though. Shaw quotes figures showing there were more than that in Manenberg from 2014 to 2016, while Elsies River peaked at over 133 per 100 000 in 2018. And Shaw compares these figures to those of contemporary war zones including  Somalia, Afghanistan, Yemen and Iraq where the war death rate is well below 100 per 100 000 (although Syria is much higher.)

While Prinsloo should have much on his conscience, he was not the only source of weapons. Guns have “haemorrhaged” from police stations, from individual officers, from metropolitan and municipal police departments, and from other government departments including the SANDF.

And then there is the police’s “chaotic” Central Firearms Registry, which between corruption and incompetence means the issuing of firarms licences is a sham.

Shaw says we will probably never know how many firearms have been “diverted”, but their impact is seen daily in the headlines, especially in Cape Town.

“Many of these guns are still in criminal possession. Unless they are retrieved, the killing will continue.”

Give Us More Guns is based on hundreds of interviews with police, gun dealers, state officials and gangsters, and took more than three years of research. Shaw is director of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime.

This is a tough and depressing book to read, but a sober look at one aspect of what is going wrong in our country.


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