Cele defends stricter gun controls amid growing theft of arms from police
Police minister says removing self-defence motivation for ownership will reduce domestic abuse against women
An increasing number of police officials and stations nationwide are being targeted by robbers for their firearms and ammunition amid concerns that illegal weapons are fuelling violent crime in SA.
Police minister Bheki Cele revealed in written replies to questions from the DA published in parliament recently that in 2020/2021, a total of 289 firearms in officials’ possession were stolen from them outside police stations. In the previous financial year, at least 265 firearms were stolen from officials, Cele said. In the past 24 months, 10 SA Police Service (SAPS) police stations have been sites of firearm and/or ammunition robberies, the minister said.
This comes amid raging debate over proposed amendments to the Firearms Control Act. Published for public comment in May, the amendments seek to remove the “self-defence” clause as a reason to lawfully own a gun, among other proposed changes.
Stolen guns, which cannot be easily linked to any potential user, fuel violent crime in SA including political killings, gang-related battles and taxi wars. The government has been accused of doing little to tackle the growing crisis, with few police officers charged or disciplined for the loss or theft of their firearms.
With about 58 people killed every day, SA has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Various surveys in recent years have shown that South Africans are more worried about crime than economic issues, with many citing safety concerns as the reason for leaving the country.
The government also acknowledges that the high level of violent crime in SA has a significant negative effect on the country’s economy and deters foreign investment.
In his published reply Cele said police stations targeted by robbers in 2019/2020 included the Johannesburg Central Police Station; Pretoria Central Police Station; Middeldrift in the Eastern Cape; and Windsorton in the Northern Cape.
In 2020/2021 five robberies took place at Moyeni police station in the Eastern Cape; Park Road in the Free State; Hillbrow police station in Gauteng; and Bushbuckridge and eManzana (Badplaas) police stations, both in Mpumalanga.
One robbery has been reported so far in the 2021/2022 period, at a police station in Northern Cape.
DA MP Dennis Ryder, who put the questions to Cele said the minister’s reply confirms that there is insufficient discipline in the handling and storage of firearms within SAPS. “The fact that there can be so many reported thefts from police stations is inexcusable,” he told Business Day this week.
“In this climate, where the SAPS cannot protect their own premises, never mind protecting the man in the street, and where the SAPS are in fact helping to arm criminals through their own negligence and ineffectiveness, there can be no reason to remove the right of an ordinary South African to apply to own a gun to protect themselves,” Ryder said.
In May, Cele said the amendments to the Firearms Control Act are necessary and arming citizens will not reduce the country’s high crime rate.
“There is no right to bear arms in our constitution and the Firearm Control Act in its current form grants no such right to citizens either. Owning a gun in this country remains a privilege made possible through the Firearms Controls Act,” he said.
Cele said the mere possession of a firearm can lead to increased rates of victimisation, both for the gun owner and those living in the household. “Simply put, this proposed change in law also has the potential to mean the difference between life and death for hundreds of women, who are in the clutches of their abusers, inside their own homes.”
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