“We can’t take it anymore… People are dying, children are dying. Sometimes we feel like giving up but we have to stay strong for the sake of our mothers.”
These words were spoken by Marshay Karelse of Manenberg as she wept at the briefing of the class action application by Gun Free South Africa (GFSA) and nine families against SAPS, for neglecting to safeguard illegal guns which were distributed on the Cape Flats, resulting in many murders over the years.
The briefing was held at the Desmond and Leah Tutu Foundation in Buitenkant Street on Wednesday May 10.
Ms Karelse spoke of the paralysing fear in her community as a result of ongoing gun violence and gangsterism, with shootings occurring almost daily.
“I had to step over a body to get to my home. We can’t take it anymore. We are traumatised. We have to see the perpetrators and guns everyday.”
The class action lawsuit is centred on former senior policeman Christiaan Prinsloo who stole and sold more than 2 000 guns awaiting destruction, to gangsters in the Western Cape, among others, between 2007 and 2015. He was sentenced to 18 years imprisonment in 2016 on charges of corruption, racketeering and theft.
GFSA director Adele Kirsten said SAPS must be held accountable for the actions of its former employee, and for the negligence in mismanaging firearms that allowed for loopholes to be exploited. “The structure of the gun control is inadequate, and the system needs to be fixed.
“(Prinsloo) couldn’t have done this if the system didn’t have loopholes.”
Ms Kirsten said SAPS reports showed that as of 2016, “Prinsloo guns” had killed 1066 people, including 67 children, while thousands more were injured.
She said there were still over 1000 “Prinsloo guns” that were not recovered, and that it seemed recovery was not a priority.
According to a statement by GFSA , the class action is seeking financial relief linked to deaths and injuries from being shot with a “Prinsloo gun”; and, in time a possible structural interdict to improve protocols for recording, storing and handling firearms by the police so that someone like Prinsloo can never again arm criminals.
The victims were being represented pro-bono by Norton Rose Fulbright. Director Jason Whyte said the application was handed to the court on Tuesday May 9, but warned that it was a long, vigorous process.
Some of the families who form part of the class action suit included Melanie Kiel, whose son Dudley Richards, was shot and killed with a “Prinsloo gun” in 2013 in Mitchell’s Plain. Through tears, Ms Kiel said that her son had his whole life ahead of him, and it was taken away. “I’m so heartsore, and I never got any feedback from police – it is almost 10 years later. I want some closure… something should be done about this.”
Rashieda Andrews, whose son Niezaam Cupido was shot and injured in Mitchell’s Plain in 2013, said even though her son survived, she felt the pain of the grieving mothers who had lost children. “I thought my child was dead… it was heartbreaking to see my child lie there.”
She said the state must be held responsible because if they protected those weapons better, the crimes wouldn’t have been committed. She urged the families of the victims to support one another.
Avril Andrews from Hanover Park, who also lost her son Alcardo Andrews to gun violence in 2015, helps families in the community who were victims of gang violence. “We see this every day. Something needs to be done. The government must be held accountable.”
Ms Kirsten said while there was a long road ahead, the class action was an act of hope because it provided opportunity for change. “We implore the minister (of Police, Bheki Cele) to make amends and fix the system.”
She added that police should go after not only Prinsloo guns, but all the illegal guns circulating in society. “We want to make sure this is prevented, and that families don’t go through all this pain and trauma.”
SAPS spokesperson Brigadier Athlenda Mathe said while the notice of the intended class action was received, SAPS at this stage, had not yet been served with the class action application and cannot comment until then. “We first have to assess the matter and decide on a way forward.”
For more information on the class action lawsuit, email email@example.com