Thursday, 4 February 2010

REPORT BACK | by Nathi Mthethwa

The road to a society that is free from violent crime: Awulethe umshini wakho - surrender your firearm

Report back by Nathi Mthethwa

The strategic goal of our democratic government led by the African National Congress remains the creation of a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, peaceful, secured and prosperous South Africa. All our actions and policies are aimed towards achieving this goal. Democracy enjoins that all South African patriots ought to work together to ensure the success of the process of reconstruction and development of our country. We, collectively and singularly, have a responsibility to bring about a better life for all.

Our country’s Constitution guarantees every person the right to life and the right to security, which includes among other things, the right to be free from all forms of violence from either public or private sources. Our Constitution further guarantees that adequate protection of such rights is fundamental to the well being, social and economic development of every person. However, the increased availability and abuse of firearms and ammunition contributes significantly to the high and unacceptable levels of violent crimes in our society.

To realise these Constitutional imperatives, the South African Police has embarked on the number of operations. Amongst these are Operation Washa Tsotsi and Operation Duty Calls. Since the launch of Operation Washa Tsotsi on 1 July 2009, a total of 752 criminals have been arrested in coordinated intelligence-led take-down operations and R25, 5 million worth of evidence has been seized. These arrests were over and above arrests made during normal day-to-day policing and detective work.

Operation Duty Calls was launched late in November to counter the usual spike in crime rates during the holiday period. It focused on visible policing at shopping malls and taxi ranks, as well as patrols of popular tourist destinations and operations against illegal firearms. Due to this operation there was a significant year- on-year decline in crimes, including armed robbery, burglary and theft of cash in transit.

To take our fight against crime to a higher level, on 11 January 2010 the South African Police launched the firearm amnesty, Operation Awulethe umshini wakho. Surrender your firearm. It will run until 11 April 2010 and has the following objectives:

  • to advocate for the voluntary surrender for destruction of licensed firearms through the process prescribed in the Firearms Control Regulations.
  • to allow for the surrender of illegal firearms under the amnesty.
  • to allow people who missed the cut off date for relicensing to license their weapons in terms of the Firearms Control Act (FCA).

The amnesty process should not be seen in isolation from our efforts to reduce the number of illegal firearms in circulation. It should be understood to be part of our holistic approach to reduce firearms in private hands and the resultant crime from the proliferation of these guns.

The current amnesty process is aimed at achieving the following:

  • Promoting responsible firearms ownership through the implementation of the Firearms Control Act (FCA).
  • The implementation of Integrated Ballistic Identification System (IBIS) testing of weapons. In particular state weapons and starting with SAPS members. This is aimed at ensuring greater accountability and responsibility over weapons in the hands of state officials and private security operators.
  • Initiatives by SAPS to remove weapons from the hands of criminals through focused police operations and investigations.
  • Addressing the pool of illegal weapons in circulation within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region. To this end we are planning to ensure that similar amnesty processes occur in other SADC countries starting in March this year.

Under the amnesty the following people are targeted:

  • Individuals who have knowledge of whereabouts of firearms and ammunition.
  • Individuals who inherited firearms and did not apply for a license.
  • Individuals who have legally sold or disposed of licensed firearm, but are still in possession of firearms parts or ammunition.
  • Manufacturers, gunsmiths and firearms dealers with surplus, obsolete and redundant firearms and ammunition.
  • Storage facilities where firearms and ammunition are stored.
  • Individuals who store firearms without legal authorization.
  • Private security companies with obsolete, redundant or surplus firearms.
  • The general public.

People who wish to make use of the amnesty process will surrender their weapons or apply for licensing through their local police stations. Each local station has been instructed to appoint a designated Firearm Amnesty Official/s who will be responsible for ensuring smooth running of the process at a local level. The Provincial and National Joint Operation Centres (JOC) will co-ordinate all operational aspects of the amnesty process.

The establishment and maintenance of an all-inclusive monitoring mechanism will play a pivotal role in the successful conclusion of Amnesty 2010. In relation to the issue of compensation, the Firearms Control Act, 2000, is clear about the circumstances under which compensation will and will not be paid.

Compensation is not payable where the firearms and ammunition was seized from a person to whom no license was issued, or the person was otherwise unlawfully in possession of the firearm. A lawful owner of a firearm also has no claim against a firearm if the South African Police Service (SAPS) recovered it after having been stolen from a lawful owner as a result of his or her negligence.

The Act also provides that no compensation is payable where firearms or ammunition are destroyed by the State.

A person who has had their license repealed under the old repealed Act, or who does not wish to retain their licensed firearm has a number of options open to them:

  • The person could choose to sell their firearm to a licensed person or a firearm dealership.
  • A person who wanted to keep firearms purely for sentimental reasons could apply for permission to de-activate a firearm and once permission is obtained, such de-activation has to be performed at their own expense.
  • They could choose to forfeit the firearm to the State for destruction and where the destruction costs are then borne by the State.

The choice on how to dispose of a firearm is therefore with the owner, as long as the conditions of the Firearms Control Act are adhered to as cited above.

There may be entities that will embark on a strategy to derail the amnesty processes. One of which is the discrediting of the safety of firearms in police custody and the amnesty processes as exemplified by the wild accusation made by the Gun Owners of South Africa (GOSA) last week Friday.

In order to address these allegations as well as to ensure public confidence in the process, we have established a comprehensive monitoring process to monitor the amnesty. A National Monitoring Team has been established under the Secretariat of Police and the provincial teams have been put in place and will report to this national team on all aspects of the process.

Vital to the success of the amnesty is an effective communication plan. Our communication plan has been up and running since 4 January 2010 and will continue until the end of April.

Our communication plan includes the following:

  • Informing the public about amnesty.
  • Communicating the period and conditions of the amnesty.
  • Promoting responsible firearm usage and compliance with the FCA.
  • Creating awareness in communities.
  • Enlisting the support of civil society in communicating the amnesty to the public.
  • Informing the public about steps being taken by government to address firearm related crimes.

We are encouraged by the support the amnesty has received from members of the public and organizations. Weapons have already started to be handed in at local stations around the country. Within two weeks of the launch more than 22 000 weapons and over 33 600 rounds of ammunition had been recovered. We wish to thank citizens who have heeded our call to rid our country of unwanted and illegal firearms by making use of both the amnesty of 2005 and the present amnesty.

Equally, we are encouraged by the support we have received from the business community, Gun Free South Africa and even from some of the Gun Owner Associations such as the South African Hunters and Game Conservation Association. We intend over the coming days and weeks to intensify our engagement with other organisations to ensure their support for this process.

It is important for us to explain to the South African public the reason that prompted us to declare this Amnesty. Amongst other factors is that South Africa has a significant pool of illegal firearms in circulation which contribute to the high rate of serious and violent crime as well as firearm-related crimes.

The source of these illegal firearms range from stolen firearms from licensed members of the public to firearms illegally smuggled into the country. It is therefore common in nature that they are owned illegally and the State has little or no knowledge of them.

The law enforcement agencies be it police, military, intelligence community are charged with the responsibility of uncovering illegal arsenals, tracking arms smuggling and uncovering illegal weapons syndicates. The success of any operation depends on the active participation of the ordinary citizens of our country.

It is indeed a duty of every South African patriot to report any criminal activity including the illegal possession and dealing in firearms and ammunition. As a government that cares, we understand that all our people irrespective of race, class, gender, or religion deserve to live in a secured and comfortable environment.

Working together with communities, the ANC government will ensure that criminals are dealt with to the full extent of the law. To fight crime, we need to stand together. We must build and strengthen partnerships, and work together to speed up effective service to the people in order to succeed in our objective of creating a united, non-racial, non-sexist, democratic, peaceful, secured and prosperous South Africa.

The journey that we have thus far travelled gives us confidence that we shall reach our goal of a society that is free from gun violence, a society that cares.

Awulethue umshini wakho. Surrender your firearm.