REMARKS BY THE MINISTER OF POLICE, E.N. MTHETHWA, MP ON THE OCCASSION OF THE INTRODUCTION OFTHE DANGEROUS WEAPONS BILL TO THE PORTFOLIO COMMITEE ON POLICE
PARLIAMENT, CAPE TOWN
12 February 2013
Acting Chairperson of the Portfolio Committee on Police, Ms A Van Wyk;
Honourable Members of the Portfolio Committee on Police;
Civilian Secretary for Police, Ms J Irish-Qhobosheane;
Senior members of the South African Police Service present;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
Over the past four years since being given the responsibility to lead the police portfolio, one of the fundamental focus areas we embarked on, was around strengthening partnerships with different stakeholders within society.
We undertook this conscious decision around partnerships, cognisant that police alone cannot reduce crime. We have to say, law-abiding citizens continue to make valuable contributions to the efforts of crime-reduction not only through inputs or ideas, but through active citizenry on issues of safety and security.
Equally, we have also begun embarking on the transformation of the SAPS. This transformation is aimed at changing the internal police environment and culture of the police so that we can develop a Police Service which is responsive, representative, efficient and effective. It must be SAPS that is transparent, accountable, upholds and executes its mandate in accordance with the Constitution, legislation and the needs of the community.
However certain disturbing incidents such as clashes between police and communities stand in direct opposite of our efforts of creating a harmonious relationship. This notion is strengthened by the constant negative public scrutiny of current policing methods and approaches applied during protests and gatherings. Embedded in some of these protests, has been the downright provocation of police officers by protesters, using dangerous weapons.
We are here this morning to present to Parliament an amendment of the Dangerous Weapons Bill. We need to highlight that a Dangerous Weapons Act already exists in our law. There are, however, also similar pieces of legislation relating to dangerous weapons that exist in different parts of the country and which were passed by the former Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei (TBVC) states and implemented in these former homelands. These different pieces of legislation remain in existence and until they are repealed.
What therefore exist are different pieces of legislation affecting different parts of the country based on the old act. Since South Africa became a unitary state and the incorporation of the TBVC states, the Dangerous Weapons Act that applies to South Africa was not rationalized to be applicable to the former TBVC states as the single piece of legislation. The Dangerous Weapons Acts of the former TBVC states have not, as yet, been repealed.
The Courts have pointed out this deficit that it is not legally permissible to have different standards of legislation for different parts of the country in a unitary state. The sentencing regimes also differ based on the existing pieces of legislation of the former TBVC states.
The Constitutional Court has ruled (in the case of S v Thunzi and S v Mlonzi (Case CCT 81/09) (which is known as the Thunzi case”) on the different sentencing regimes of the different parts of the country and held that the Dangerous Weapons Act of South Africa needs to be harmonized into a single piece of national legislation for general application.
The Draft Bill on dangerous weapons is therefore an attempt to harmonize historical legislation and has also drawn on the best practices in other countries. It must be pointed out that there already exist other pieces of legislation that outlaw the carrying of dangerous weapons and that which is defined as a dangerous weapon is very broad.
The Bill seeks to:
Repeal and substitute all existing legislation regulating dangerous weapons in the Republic with a single set of legislation in that regard, applicable to the country as a whole;
To provide for uniform legislation that will apply throughout the Republic;
Prohibit the possession of dangerous weapons, firearms or replicas in circumstances where it is clear that there is an intention to use the same for an unlawful purpose; and
Subject to certain exceptions, prohibit the carrying of firearms and objects which resemble firearms, dangerous weapons and objects likely to cause injury or damage to property at a demonstration or gathering.
What the new Bill seeks to do is not to prevent people from carrying items like pepper spray as reported in the media, but rather an attempt to harmonize our approach to dangerous weapons into a single piece of legislation and to base this on international best practice.
The Bill does, however, prevent the carrying of replica firearms in public where that same intention to use it for an unlawful purpose is clear. The rationale for this is that replica firearms often look exactly like real firearms and can be used in the commission of a crime. There are also many examples where groups of armed robbers have robbed people where only one member of the group produces a real firearm whilst the other members have replicas which the public are not aware are not real firearms.
The Bill provides that any person who is in possession of, or carries any dangerous weapon or any replica or imitation of a firearm under circumstances which may raise a reasonable suspicion that the person intends to use the dangerous weapon for an unlawful purpose, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three years.
We believe there is a need for such a law to ensure proper and effective regulation of the carrying of dangerous weapons in public. The intention of the Bill is not to prohibit people from privately possessing such weapons.
This new Bill takes into account constitutional principles as well as present policing needs in respect of the possession and carrying of dangerous weapons. Dangerous weapons account for a huge number of violent crimes committed in the country. There cannot therefore, in our view, be any justification to threaten, harm, destabilize or even commit crime through flaunting of dangerous weapons in this democratic state.
We challenge all to uphold the Constitution in letter and spirit to help our society advance its democratic culture. To further encourage fellow citizens to work with government and the law enforcement agencies to apprehend those who plan, commit crimes against the people of our beloved country.
In conclusion, we need to balance the rights and responsibilities of citizens as enshrined in Chapter 2 Section 17 of the Constitution of the Republic, which states, quote: “Everyone has the right, peacefully and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket and to present petitions.”
I thank you.