A Gun Free South Africa? Where Would We Start?

2015-08-07 19:57

The president has flirted with the idea of having a gun free society, amid recent attacks against the police force. This was a passing remark made at the funeral of a slain officer, and [not surprisingly] among his family members in attendance. Besides the brownie points trying to be scored, this could be of some benefit to the country, given firearms do account for most violent deaths yearly, but as far as curbing the culture of violence in South Africa, questions would still be left lingering as to whether it would signal a restored and more peaceful society. With more and more citizens arming themselves against the brazen savagery criminals have shown of late, such a proposal doesn’t hold much favour with the majority (most of whom view crime and the economy entwined in a perpetual downward spiral). As it stands, 1 in 2 South Africans have either witnessed, or been confronted with some form of violence since 1990. Political turmoil from a transitioning political powerbase has lent to criminality morphing itself into a conundrum, which the South African government, just cannot solve. Even if the South African government were to rid South Africa's space of guns, there’s still the question of controlling weapon flows into the country, both regionally and internationally.

Gunflows into and out the country have been prolific over the last few decades, with syndicates (local and international), individuals and even arms dealers smuggling weaponry in ever more sophisticated ways. Former operatives in both the Umkhonto and the (former) SADF have been known to meander into illicit activities and weapons dealing once their services were no longer required after the turbulence of the 80's and early 90's. Some of these individuals have coalesced to form criminal groups operating with incredible sophistication. Cases like that of Viktor Bout, the inspiration for the Nicholas Cage film, Lord of War, provides evidence of mingling between international arms dealers and locals (namely Andrew Smulian - his former associate). Deals spanning most of Africa's war torn regions involved Smulian and it may not have been a far stretch to imagine some of these arms having been smuggled into South Africa as well. Although 4 years on since the arrest and prosecution of Bout, many more arms dealers could still be operating in the country at large.

With the interests of such individuals and entities at stake, Zuma and his administration would be hard pressed to make this proposition a tangible reality. In fact, being a former operative in the resistance struggle himself (based in Mozambique), Zuma would well know what and who he'd be up against. But then again, bargaining through palm greasing would also be within his means of negotiation and diplomacy - if he were to reach as momentous a decision as disarming the the republic. Even if the task were to be attempted, serious thought would have to paid to what it would take to control the flow of weapons in and out the country. Intra-border movements within the SADC region would also have to be controlled to greater lengths, thus affecting trade with various partners (Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana to mention but a few).

The implications for implementing gun control laws could be tremendous. What would it take to control the flow of weapons one may ask? Stricter border and customs controls would be just the start. Officials in both port and SANDF outfits would have to revamp their behavioural practices, paramount of which is corruption. Many of these officials are prone to slacking regulatory practices in exchange for a few wads here and there. Flows of weapons, goods and people, have come to present a challenge for border control the likes of which have never been met with before by any government. Curbing violence and violent crime in the country, as many well know, rests on addressing poverty and lack of economic participation (not just as workers but as producers) becoming the state's main point of focus.

Capping the salaries of CEO’s and government officials (as mentioned by Wits Vice Chancellor Adam Habib earlier this week) would be a good place to start. Practicing responsible governance along with results driven programmes should be the other. It is only through sustainable prosperity that violent crime can dissipate, even if at a gradual pace. Even if the president has come to view the problem in such earnest, potentially willing to give up his monopoly of force, it signals a time in which violence and murder have taken centre stage alongside poverty & inequality as the immovable pillars blocking our progress.

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