South Africans have until April 11 his year to dispose of illegally-possessed firearms and ammunition under a new amnesty that came into effect yesterday.
Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa (pictured) says those who fail to voluntarily hand over their unregistered or illegal firearms during the four-month amnesty will be in “big trouble”, the SA Press Association (SAPA) reports.
“If they don’t volunteer, come April 11 “die poppe gaan dans” [the fur will fly],” Mthethwa told the national press club in Pretoria at the launch of the firearms amnesty. Current legislation allow for the imprisonment of up to 20 years.
National Police Commissioner Bheki Cele added that as “soon as amnesty if over, life is going to be really, really rough.”
The amnesty gives law-abiding citizens who failed to register or renew their firearm licenses in 2009 four months to voluntarily hand over their weapons for destruction as part of the strategy to get illegal firearms off the streets, SAPA added.
Mthethwa said the period should also be seen as part of government’s programme to promote responsible gun ownership, the state Bua news agency added. The period will also allow people who missed the cut-off date for applying for licenses to be able to license their weapons in terms of the Firearms Control Act of 2000.
Those who made use of the opportunity to hand in arms would not be compensated, said Mthethwa.
They would also have to show proof of identification when handing in the weapons, which would then be sent for ballistics tests. Where a firearm was proved to have been used during criminal activity, the person who handed it in would be arrested.
“To those who fail to heed the call and are later found in possession of illegal firearms, the police will through continuous operations arrest such persons,” he said.
Mthethwa said the “significant pool” of illegal firearms in circulation contributed to the country’s high rate of serious and violent crime.
The source of the illegal firearms ranged from those stolen from law-abiding citizens and police stations to those smuggled over the borders or inherited by family members. “It has not been our stance to criminalise law-abiding citizens, but we note that missing cut-off dates [to register or renew firearm licenses] is often a human error,” he said.
It was for this reason that the government was exercising some leniency. “We need to caution though that this must not create an impression that this will be a given stance in the future,” said Mthethwa.
During the last amnesty period in the years 2004/2005 just under 140 000 illegal firearms were handed in. Of these, 46 631 were licensed firearms voluntarily surrendered and 98 631 were firearms removed from circulation. A further 17 665 illegal firearms were seized and confiscated by police during operations.
Mthethwa said police leadership was “absolutely” certain that the firearms amnesty would be a success.
Cele added that from April 12 police will leave no stone unturned to ensure that illegal firearms are removed from society.
Both Mthethwa and Cele appealed to the public in general to strengthen partnership with government by reporting the whereabouts of these firearms, ammunition and parts of firearms, Bua said.