Marco van Niekerk writes a heavy-hitting piece about the proposed FCA Amendment Bill, which recently saw a vigorous public participation process and about that runs contrary to the government’s own commissioned research.
Recently published crime statistics showed an increase in almost all forms of violent crime in South Africa. There was a 66.2% quarter-on-quarter increase in murder. Between April and June last year, 10 006 cases of rape were recorded.
Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, has described the country as a ‘war zone’ in which 50 people are murdered each day. In the 2019/2020 reporting year, 21 325 cases of murder, 42 289 cases of rape, 166 720 cases of serious assault, and 143 990 cases of violent robbery were recorded. Most of these crimes went un-investigated, unprosecuted, and unpunished according to the National Prosecuting Authority — the prosecution rate for this period was 2%.
Despite the surge in violent crime, SAPS’s crime-fighting capacity is at an all-time low, with no clear plan to get it back on track. Even Parliament is — finally —frustrated. The chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Police recently described SAPS’s lack of progress on various structural policing problems as a ‘travesty’.
The Portfolio Committee chairperson made these remarks during a report-back by SAPS to Parliament on the progress of the firearms amnesty programme. SAPS’s presentation showed that the already-massive backlog of weapons waiting to be safely destroyed has increased. 165 675 illegal and/or unwanted firearms were surrendered to SAPS in the two amnesty periods between 2019 and 2021. Only 20 439 — 12% of the recently-surrendered weapons — were destroyed.
This means that, in total, there are hundreds of thousands of firearms in the SAPS’s possession. These firearms threaten the lives of innocent South Africans, considering the escalating problem of theft of firearms from SAPS custody. At least three police stations have been robbed of firearms in the past four months alone. Added to this is the longstanding phenomenon of SAPS officers renting out their service pistols to criminals. In one such incident, an officer in the Free State was allegedly paid R30 000 for the use of her police firearm, which was used by criminals to rob other SAPS officers of their firearms.
These issues stand starkly against the backdrop of July’s civil unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. Thousands of businesses were destroyed, costing our fragile economy billions of Rand and causing heart-breaking numbers of job losses. During the violence it was often only the presence of legally armed citizens that was able to stop further damage or loss of life from taking place. In fact, examples abound of the SAPS actively seeking out the assistance of legally armed civilians.
Despite the efforts of many of the SAPS’s rank-and-file sergeants and constables, they clearly do not have the capacity to protect South African life, limb, and property amidst our burden of violent crime.
Knowing SAPS’s limitations — as demonstrated by its lack of progress on firearms enforcement and crime enforcement capacitation — many South Africans consider access to a firearm to quite literally be a matter of life and death. Those who do not rely on the security of a self-defence firearm are heavily reliant on private security. Even those who can’t afford to personally employ private security indirectly rely on their services, which include guarding banks, shopping centres and hospitals, escorting goods and cash, and assisting the police with arrests.
Considering this, the potential negative impact of the Draft Firearms Control Amendment Bill, which began its journey into law in May this year, cannot be understated. While much has been written about the Bill already, I’d like to reiterate what is at stake. I’d also like to add a few comments about some of the potential consequences that have yet to be considered.
The draft Bill’s deletion of sections 13 and 14 of the Firearms Control Act will make it illegal to possess a firearm for self-defence. Its amendment to s 91(2) of the Act, barring security services and firearms training providers from possessing more than 100 rounds of ammunition at a time, will render the private security industry impotent. Sports shooters and hunters will be unable to pursue their pastime, to the detriment of the hunting and tourism industries. Not only will this destroy up to tens of thousands of much needed jobs, but it will also remove one of the primary sources of funding for wildlife conservation.
The legislation will give the state an effective monopoly on firearms ownership and use, forcing South Africans to rely solely on the police for protection and security; an already ineffective police force that will suffer the additional burden of billions in budget cuts over the next three years.
Others have written about how the Bill will unjustifiably limit our fundamental rights to life and security of the person. But it will also create socioeconomic instability. No one wants to live — let alone invest — in a place in which their security is constantly under severe threat, without the ability to keep themselves safe.
I don’t think it is alarmist to say that if the amendment was to come into force, companies and citizens with the means to do so will leave South Africa in unprecedented numbers. Moreover, South Africans without the ability to emigrate will move capital offshore, further limiting the capacity of the South African economy to absorb new entrants into the job market. As always, it will be the poor and the unemployed who will suffer the most.
As the Bill comes before Parliament, it is crucial that our lawmakers consider the consequences to South Africans’ safety and security, and the serious socioeconomic issues that will result. It is equally crucial that civil society — regardless of its views on the issue of private firearms ownership more generally — stands together to demand that the Bill is stopped dead in its tracks.
Decision makers must realise there is no easy way out of our security problems — least of all through a simple stroke of the legislator’s pen. Hard work and serious political commitment will be required to address SAPS’s challenges (including making sure the existing firearms control legislation is administered effectively) and ensure that South Africans are protected by a police force that is able to keep everyone safe.
Until such time as this is our reality, however, taking self-defence firearms and protection from private security out of the hands of law-abiding South Africans is unconscionable.
Written by Marco van Niekerk.
Marco van Niekerk is CEO at Outdoor Investment Holdings, the country’s largest importer, distributor and retailer of firearms and ammunition. OIH’s companies include Safari Outdoor, Inyathi Sporting Supplies, and Formalito.