Members of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Police were manifestly frustrated during a meeting yesterday, during which the South African Police Service (SAPS) gave presentations about the status of various national policing problems. The Committee’s chairperson, Tina Joemat-Pettersson MP, described the lack of progress on these problems as a ‘travesty’ with particularly grave implications for the safety and security of women.
Ms Joemat-Pettersson echoes concerns felt by all South Africans considering the crime statistics published last week, which showed an increase in almost all forms of violent crime in South Africa, says Outdoor Investment Holdings CEO Marco van Niekerk. The statistics revealed a 66.2% quarter-on-quarter increase in murder and 10 006 cases of rape being registered in just three months, between April and June this year.
In an SAPS presentation about the progress of the firearms amnesty programme, it was made clear to Parliament that the massive backlog of weapons waiting to be safely destroyed has increased. While 165 675 illegal and/or unwanted firearms were surrendered to SAPS in the two amnesty periods between 2019 and 2021, only 20 439 — a mere 12% of the recently surrendered weapons — were destroyed.
This, added to the backlog from previous amnesty periods, means that hundreds of thousands of firearms are in SAPS’s possession, where they pose a threat to the lives of innocent South Africans, van Nieker believes. “This is especially so, considering the increasing problem of the theft of firearms from SAPS custody; at least three separate police stations have been robbed in the past four months, with a number of firearms stolen. The Committee heard how just this month, guns from the Norwood police station in Johannesburg were found to have made their way into the hands of a gang, who subsequently used the weapons to kill a police officer.”
Van Niekerk believes that the SAPS’s demonstrated lack of capacity to safely dispose of surrendered weapons shows that the proposed amendments to the Firearms Control Act — which will make it illegal to own a firearm for self-defence and therefore require the surrender of millions of civilian-owned firearms to the police — will be impossible to safely implement. Not only will it overwhelm SAPS’s firearm destruction capacity, but it will also vastly raise the risk of surrendered firearms making their way into the hands of violent criminals, who will use them against innocent — and disarmed — civilians.
SAPS’s report-back to the Committee also highlighted other administrative challenges the police are facing. There are now over 340 000 unfinalised firearms-related applications (including 86 800 amnesty-related applications) pending on SAPS’s books. This backlog has increased substantially in 2021, despite SAPS’s purportedly having put plans in place to address it. Also concerning was SAPS’s admission that there is a backlog of over 166 000 cases requiring DNA evidence processing. Many of these cases involve biological evidence from rapes and serious sexual assaults which, without the required DNA processing, will go unprosecuted and unpunished.
“It has become clear that the safety and security problems facing our country have nothing to do with our firearms control legislation, which is already regarded by many as an example of global best practice. Rather, we need to enable the legislation already in place by improving administrative capacity within SAPS and improving their ability to maintain law and order,” van Niekerk believes.
“Hard work and serious political commitment will be required to address SAPS’s challenges and ensure that South Africans are protected by a police force that can rid the country of violent crime and keep everyone safe. Until this is our reality, however, taking self-defence firearms and protection from private security out of the hands of law-abiding South Africans is unconscionable.”