Special Reports

Illegal guns fuel violent crime, wreak deadly havoc in South Africa


Gun-related murders are the leading cause of violent death, placing the country second in the world after the US. South Africa’s population is 53-million compared to the US’s 319-million.

The Geneva Declaration Secretariat says South Africa’s homicide rates are indicative of a warzone or a country in crisis, struggling with stability.

Although South Africa’s homicide rates have declined consistently since democracy, they remain among the highest in the world. They are about four times the global average at more than 30 per 100 000 people.

The South African Police Service stopped publishing disaggregated firearm data in 2000. Different processes are used to collect and monitor data, so firearm statistics have become fragmented and speculative.

A consistent and disturbing trend in post-apartheid South Africa is the rate that state-owned guns land in the hands of criminals through theft, negligence, fraud and corruption. The police’s secretariat recently said that more than 1 900 guns belonging to the police, defence force and the prisons went missing over the past year.

Police sting operations frequently uncover and destroy large illegal caches. Several amnesty programmes have been used to reduce the number of illegal firearms in circulation. The 2005 amnesty netted 100 000 guns. But without reliable, transparent crime statistics and ongoing research, measures to eliminate illegal small arms and light weapons will remain largely “hit and miss”. Their proliferation will remain largely misunderstood.

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