It has been an interesting few weeks for our Minister of Police, Fikile Mbalula. During a media briefing on 25 April he alluded to the problem of (hopefully illicitly-owned) firearms by stating “There is a lot of AK47 here in this country. I don’t know where does it come from. Whether it was left by us, I don’t know. But is lot of AK47. Everybody has got a AK47.” The Minister continued in this vein during the Police Budget Vote speech on 23 May, when he said the following – “As we move forward, we want to disarm South Africa. We must silent guns by 2063 in doing so, we have developed a tailored programme for the recovery of stolen and state owned firearms…In this financial year, the Firearms License Appeal Board intends to forward proposals that will better manage the spread of firearms and reduce the proliferation of the firearms. In line with the Africa Agenda 2063 to reduce the flow of guns in Africa and ultimately silence the guns in Africa by 2020, the process of the Firearms Appeal Board will be fully supported.”
It is difficult to come to any conclusion other than that the Minister of Police has turned his personal attention to the task of South African civil disarmament. It appears to me that the Minister intends to make it more difficult for law-abiding South Africans to licence firearms, and that there is a clear agenda at removing firearms from civilian ownership.
This is ironic, because it certainly appears that the safest place for guns is in the hands of responsible citizens. A recent media exposé about members of the SAPS who leaked thousands of guns which were meant to be destroyed to the criminal underworld again put the prevalence of corruption within the police under the magnifying glass. Netwerk24 connected the leaked firearms to the murder of at least 89 children (and the wounding of 170 others) in the Cape Flats between 2010 and 2016. This is a clear illustration of the disastrous consequences of a firearm amnesty.
Consequences which the strongest proponents of the amnesty, Gun-Free South Africa, refuse to acknowledge, but I digress.
Hot on the heels of these statements from the Minister follows an article in yesterday’s Rapport by Erika Gibson in which is revealed that he purchased a CZ 9mm pistol in February, and received his licence “within weeks”. Does this mean that the Minister sees himself as special, and that all other citizens do not deserve the privilege of owning firearms? In light of his recent utterances one can hardly be blamed for jumping to this exact conclusion. It is reminiscent of a line from George Orwell’s Animal Farm – “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”
The Minister was given opportunity to respond to these revelations, and he did so via his spokesman Vuyo Mhaga who explained that the Minister has no quarrel with licenced gun owners at all, but is instead concerned with the unlicenced firearms in circulation. He further explained that the Minister has a massive problem with the incidents where police and military firearms are stolen, and then later used to commit crimes.
If these are indeed the genuine sentiments of the Minister, and that he harbours no malicious agenda towards lawful firearm owners, then I am willing to embrace it. Law-abiding citizens have for a long time suffered under the oppressive yoke of the Firearms Control Act of 2000, a terrible piece of legislation that has been completely ineffectual at bringing violent crime under control. Amending or replacing this costly, ineffective, and repressive law falls within the Minister’s portfolio. There is thus no excuse for the Minister to not use his powers in order to rectify the travesty that is the FCA…especially since he claims to be on our side.
The previous Secretary General of Interpol, Ronald Noble, spoke of the security benefits of an armed citizenry after the events at the Westgate mall in 2013 – “Ask yourself: If that was Denver, Colorado, if that was Texas, would those guys have been able to spend hours, days, shooting people randomly? …What I’m saying is it makes police around the world question their views on gun control. It makes citizens question their views on gun control. You have to ask yourself, ‘Is an armed citizenry more necessary now than it was in the past with an evolving threat of terrorism?’ This is something that has to be discussed.”
These are words I hope are chewed and digested by Minister Mbalula. Considering that he is himself a licenced gun owner and has clearly stated in the press that he has no feud with law-abiding gun owners, it would certainly benefit his portfolio to seek dialogue and cooperation with us.
However, actions speak louder than mere words, and the choices made by the Minister in coming months will reveal his true intent more clearly than any statements issued from his office. We have been burned badly before by the shadowy machinations of government, and the list of empty and broken promises is long. South African gun owners and their representative organisations will be watching closely, and keeping their options open.
PS. If the CFR can process the Minister’s licence application within mere weeks, then clearly the ability exists for them to do so for the rest of us.