‘Time to get rid of guns’

2008-12-26 00:00

As the country prepares itself for increased political tensions in the run up to the 2009 elections, the government would do well to get serious about disarming its citizens and ridding the country of illegal weapons.

This is the view of KwaZulu-Natal monitor and researcher Mary de Haas, who said far too many lives have been lost because the government has not taken decisive steps to rid the country of illegal weapons, post apartheid.

“A good start would be to disarm taxi operators and to form a hand-picked national team to investigate all reports of illegal weapons, including those in the possession of rogue elements of the private security industry,” she said in a report titled “2008: Yet another year of the gun in KZN”.

De Haas points out that the first months of 2009 are likely to be marked by increasing political tensions as Cope, the ANC and IFP vie for votes and various factors exacerbate the risk of violence in the run up to the elections.

“In a political climate characterised by intolerance a sigificant sector of the well-armed taxi industry has taken a firm political stand for the ANC. Then there is the presence of a large group of men and women who have been undergoing paramilitary training — including in subversive tactics — who are jobless,” she said.

De Haas says even if there is no escalation in violence, there is no way violent crime will decrease significantly while there are so many illegal weapons around.

De Haas said in 2008 at least 20 police officers reportedly died at the hands of well-armed criminals.

Police in turn shot at least 19 suspects dead in the last four months of 2008, claiming to have come under attack.

She said some police members are “part and parcel of the gun problem”, and there is a need for stricter control over the use of guns by police themselves.

In March, in what appeared to be clearly an “inside job”, 43 guns linked to taxi conflict were stolen from a storeroom at Maphumulo police station.

In other instances police abused their service guns, killing themselves, their partners and other community members, or “achieved notoriety when they threatened other motorists while driving in blue light vehicles”.

The failure of police to take a firm stand against taxi lawlessness by instituting regular roadblocks and searches for weapons, and by using SANDF backup, suggested they are not serious about eradicating this type of conflict, which costs many lives annually.

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