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Parliament extends firearms amnesty

By Mayibongwe Maqhina  Jul 31, 2020

Cape Town – Parliament has given the go-ahead for another six-month firearms amnesty that has been declared for the period starting August 1 until 31 January 2021.

This comes after the latest round of amnesty, which ran from December 2019 until May, did not yield the desired number of illegal firearms apparently owing to Covid-19 lockdown that started four months ago.

The new amnesty was granted as parties were split in the middle with some seeing it an opportunity to surrender the illegal guns while others viewed it as exercise that would not result in firearms used in crimes handed in.

A report of the portfolio committee said the number of police stations that will not receive surrendered firearms has been reduced from 46 to 28 after a risk assessment was conducted.

Speaking during the hybrid sitting of the National Assembly, police portfolio chairperson Tina Joemat-Petterssen said firearms were a key weapon of choice to murders in the country.

Joemat-Petterssen said the crime statistics for 2018/19 showed that firearms were used in 7 156 murders and knives in 4 720 cases.

“As MPs we have the responsibility to facilitate conditions for safety for all our people,” she said.

Joemat-Petterssen also said the Covid-19 lockdown was introduced in the middle of the previous amnesty.

“We would have yielded much more firearms had restrictions not kicked in,” she said, adding that many police stations were unable to process the handing of illegal firearms.

The lifting of restrictions during lockdown’s Level 3 will enable people to hand in their illegal firearms, she said.

DA MP Okkie Terblanche said South Africa was plagued by serious violent crime and firearms were used in horrendous crimes.

Terblanche said Police Minister Bheki Cele’s motivation for the amnesty was the reduction of illegal firearms in circulation, and questioned the success of the previous amnesty.

He noted that 33 out of 6891 firearms that were referred for ballistic testing were completed.

Terblanche also said no firearms were positively linked to crimes during previous amnesties.

He said there was a problem of firearm owners who were unable to renew licenses timely during lockdown.

Terblanche said Cele has not said how SAPS will address the issue.

EFF’s Natasha Ntlangwini said South Africa has the highest murder rate and that indications were that about 60 000 firearms were unaccounted for.

“They cause so much pain in society and we need to put an end to this. One of the ways to deal with gun violence is the removal of guns from society,” Ntlangwini said.

She, however, noted that thousands of firearms surrendered in the past had found their way back onto the streets.

“The EFF supports the declaration and supports South Africans’ rights not to keep them but surrender them back to the state,” Ntlangwini said.

IFP’s Zandile Majozi said the lockdown has hindered the handing in of illegal and unwanted firearms.

“We urge the public to hand-in illegal and unwanted firearms,” Majozi said.

Freedom Front Plus MP Petrus Groenewald warned against the MPs being misled that the amnesty was to ensure illegal firearms were handed in and also aimed to reduce crime in the country.

Groenewald said Cele has previously revealed in parliamentary replies not one firearm handed in was used in any crime in past amnesties.

“We are misleading ourselves if we think that criminals will come forward to hand in their firearms,” he said.

He said irresponsible people like EFF leader Julius Malema, who illegally handled firearms should be locked up.

ACDP MP Steve Swart said concerns had been raised with the central firearm register centre and firearms handed in at police stations with one colonel arrested for selling firearms to criminals.

Swart asked about measures to prevent firearms handed in from ending up in the hands of criminals on the streets.

He noted that the primary role of the state was to protect citizens.

“It is important that people are enabled to defend themselves within the parameters of law.”

Swart also said the focus should be on illegal firearms as other amnesties resulted in surrendered firearms not tied up to criminal acts.

“Focus on disarming criminals not law abiding citizens,” he added

NFP’s Munzoor Shaik-Emam said firearms were a menace to society and violent crimes were through the use of firearms.

He said his party was in favour of a gun-free society.

Aljama’ah MP Ganief Hendricks also welcomed the amnesty and appreciated the wisdom of the portfolio committee for its wisdom to recommend their.

“We see it as a first step to less guns in South Africa,” Hendricks.

ANC’s Mathedi Molekwa echoed sentiments of other MPs backing the amnesty saying firearms were a weapon of choice in murders and that thousands were injured through guns.

“We have come to a point in history where this has to stop. We in this Parliament must assist to make it stop,” Molekwa said.

“It is a well established fact that illegal use of firearms destroys lives,” she added.

Molekwa said more could have been handed during the previous amnesty were it not for the lockdown that kicked in March.

“We want more people to come to hand illegal firearms,” she said.