- Dealing with explosives
By Annalise Kempen
Photos provided by Brig Pillay
It is very early on a Monday morning, 03:00 to be exact, and not much is going on at a filling station in Mankweng in Limpopo. But then, suddenly, all hell breaks loose when three vehicles pull up at the station. A group of armed robbers attack the petrol attendants, forcing them to fill up the vehicles with fuel. The robbers then storm into the shop, steal cigarettes and other items ... and then take the bold step of blowing up the ATM and the drop safe. The robbers flee the scene with an undisclosed amount of cash, leaving behind the shocked staff members.
A few months later, on 4 October 2017, a cash-in-transit (CIT) vehicle is blown up by robbers using "way too much" explosives during a CIT heist in the North West. The statement of the excessive use of explosives came from Wahl Bartmann, the CEO of Fidelity Security, whose vehicle and security officers were targeted (Gous, 2017).
Sadly, these types of incidents are not rare occurrences in South Africa and, according to the SAPS's crime statistics for 2016/2017, CIT robberies have increased in frequency by 10.9%. It is common knowledge that the highly organised criminals who perpetrate these crimes often use explosives as part of their modus operandi to get to the money and that these criminals don't care where they blow up the vehicle, since some of these heists, and subsequent blasts, have taken place on busy highways. ATM bombings and the bombing of drop safes are also not uncommon throughout South Africa.
But then one wonders: where do these criminals get these explosives, since the use of explosives is highly regulated? Servamus knocked on the door of the SAPS's Explosives Section to learn more about its mandate and responsibilities and to get answers as to who is allowed to use explosives. Col Pascal Maswanganyi, the Section Commander of Bomb Disposal Management, shared valuable information about this Section's important task.
The Explosives Section
The Explosives Section consists of three sections, namely Bomb Disposal Management, Explosives Control and Explosives Auditing and Disposal. Brig Mark Pillay is the Section Head and also the Chief Inspector of Explosives (CIE). The office of the CIE regulates all matters associated with explosives control in South African within the private and public domain.
- This Section’s work is prescribed by various statutes which include:
- the Explosives Act 26 of 1956 and its regulations (which are being revised);
- the Tear-Gas Act 16 of 1964;
- section 4 of the Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000, relating to deactivated and dummy models of explosives, explosive devices, explosives and accessories for explosives;
- the Hazardous Substances Act 15 of 1973 - which deals with radioactive substances;
- the Non-Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction Act 87 of 1993; and
- the Protection of the Constitutional Democracy against terrorist and related activities Act 33 of 2004.
The legal policy and framework of the Explosives Section is further contained in the relevant sections of the National Road Traffic Act 93 of 1996; the Occupational Health and Safety Act 85 of 1993; international instruments; and existing policies and procedures of the South African Police Service.
The objective of the Explosives Section includes the management and maintenance of an efficient bomb disposal capability in the SAPS as a service to communities on a national basis. In addition, this Section is responsible for the inspection of all explosives and ammunition owned and used by the South African Police Service; the investigation of all explosives-related crime scenes; and the handling of crime-related incidents where hazardous chemicals and radioactive materials are involved.
This responsibility rests on the shoulders of more than 230 bomb technicians who work across all major cities. In their line of work they also use 21 remote operating vehicles (ROVs) to investigate and attend to suspicious parcels - these ROVs have been distributed to all nine provinces.