Robbery at naval base

The three men arrested in connection with the robbery at Simon’s Town Naval Base on Saturday, July 23 had their first court appearance in Simon’s Town Magistrate’s Court on Monday August 1.

Each of the men, who were arrested in Steenberg days after the theft, are believed to have parents in the South African Navy.

Duncan Gouviac‚ 21‚ and Dillon Sewkumar‚ 18‚ are facing charges of housebreaking‚ theft and the unlawful possession of prohibited firearms‚ ammunition and explosives.

Electrical engineering student Karabo Ramakgopa‚ 19‚ is facing a charge of being in possession of a prohibited firearm allegedly stolen from the base.

Their bail hearing has been postponed until Monday August 8.

They will remain in custody until their next court appearance.

Hand grenades‚ machine guns‚ pistols and hundreds of rounds of ammunition were stolen from six storerooms at the naval base.

The theft caused outrage across the country with many questions being fired at the SA Navy.

One point that has come of this is that the naval base, being military, is not actually considered a national key point.

The Right2Know Campaign (R2K) and the SA History Archive (SAHA) fought in 2012 to have the police reveal the national key points under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA).

National key points are protected from being photographed or identified as key points.

Judge Roland Sutherland ruled in favour of the R2K campaign after a very public battle, and the high court ordered in 2013 that the list be made public. There were no military bases on this list.

The burglary still proved to be highly embarrassing for the navy and raises more questions than answers.

Western Cape MEC of Community Safety‚ Dan Plato‚ demanded to know from Defence and Military Veterans Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula how security at the base was so easily breached.

He said he had been told in confidence that there had been two previous incidents between March and April. “The police deny knowledge of these burglaries but we continue to receive information about them, and this points to this incident as the third security breach at the base.”

He added: “This effectively means that more guns and more ammunition are likely to end up in the hands of gangsters.”

Mr Plato pointed out that one stolen weapon is linked to at least 15 murders in the Western Cape, as was found in the case of former Gauteng -based SAPS Colonel Christiaan Prinsloo, who was found guilty of trafficking guns stolen from police arms caches to gangsters in the Western Cape.

He added: “This is not the first time that a base under the custodianship of Minister Mapisa-Nqakula has been breached and weapons stolen. In August 2015, the Tempe Military Base was robbed due to, among others, security fences, cameras and security lights around the arms warehouse not being up to standard. This was found by a military board of inquiry,” he said.

Mr Plato said media reports in May this year alleged that confidential information about the Simon’s Town Naval Base, particularly on where firearms and ammunition is stored, was being sold to gangsters in the Western Cape.

He said the various allegations and enquiries about possible security breaches at the Simon’s Town Naval Base should have been met with stringent security control measures, protocols and standards being adhered to.

“I urge anyone who has any information on the burglary at the Naval Base to report this information to their closest police station or to call the SAPS Crime Stop number 08600 10111,” Mr Plato said.

He said those responsible for both the burglary as well as those orchestrating such attacks on the state will face the full might of the law.

Head of the Hawks in the Western Cape‚ Major General Nombuso Khoza, delivered on his assertion that he would follow all leads in this matter, and bring the suspects to book.

Lloyd Ramovha of the Hawks confirmed that an overnight blitz by them and crime intelligence resulted in the arrest of the suspects for their suspected involvement in the naval base burglary.

Chief Whip of the Western Cape provincial legislature, Mark Wiley, expressed outrage about the situation on defenceweb: “The situation at Naval Base Simon’s Town is critical and an investigation, in the interests of every dedicated sailor – and South Africa – is overdue,” he stated.

Mr Wiley said the theft could have been prevented had the naval authorities done their duty many months ago when, on several occasions, they had been warned of a climate a lawlessness and decay taking hold in parts of the base.

“This can potentially contaminate the very institution of the navy, whose primary mission is to protect the country’s coastal sovereignty,” he said.

He said he would be calling for a commission of inquiry into the management of the base.

Mr Wiley said he had received information, from several reliable sources, of alleged criminal behaviour and abuse of power, which he said no armed service can tolerate.

“The allegations include racism, political favouritism and factionalism, interference in functions, breaching of finance and security protocols, unauthorised use of vehicles, theft of equipment and stores, dereliction of duty and conduct unbecoming, heritage violations and ‘alarmingly, allegations of seditious (possibly treasonous) behaviour’.”

He said informants did not want to lay charges fearing “intimidation, or worse”.

Mr Wiley said he had reported incidents to police and the Hawks, and had advised his informants to do the same.

After the robbery, the South African National Defence Forces’ Brigadier General Xolani Mabanga issued a simple statement, saying only: “On the weekend of July 23rd‚ there was a break-in at the SA Navy Armament Depot which resulted in the loss of various types of military equipment. An investigation has been initiated to ascertain the circumstances surrounding this incident. The South African Navy views this incident in an extremely serious light and all efforts are being made to bring the perpetrators to book.”

Despite three written attempts to reach the SA Navy media liaison for confirmation on the allegations that the men arrested have parents in the Navy, no comment was received.

The Echo also asked what positions the parents held, how long they had been employed and what stance the navy took towards this. However, by the time of going to print, no response had been received.