Police in South Africa
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (AA) – The killing of several police officers by armed gangs has sparked a debate in South Africa over the country’s gun laws, with the president personally weighing in on the matter.
Since the beginning of this year, 57 police officers have been killed by armed gangs while responding to crime scenes across the country.
Seven officers were killed in the space of a few days in Gauteng province, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.
“Should we allow weapons everywhere and therefore walk in danger or should we make South Africa a gun-free country?” President Jacob Zuma asked while visiting the family of a police officer killed by armed robbers in Johannesburg this week.
Many South Africans carry licensed firearms to protect themselves due to the high crime rate in the country. But others have illegal firearms which are not licensed by the state. Experts believe these illegal firearms are the ones being used to commit crimes.
“Yes gun laws must be tightened,” Richard Mamabolo, spokesman of the Police, Prisons and Civil Rights Union (POPCRU), told Anadolu Agency. “You cannot have an individual having more than five guns at his home.”
He said when burglars break into a home where the owner has several firearms, they usually steal the guns and use them to commit crimes elsewhere.
“This also increases the number of illegal firearms in the country,” Mamabolo said.
He also claimed that private security companies in South Africa have more weapons than the country’s police and military units combined.
“Private security firms have between 400,000 and 500,000 weapons while the police and military have around 190,000 each,” he said.
He also blamed some security firms for employing undocumented foreign nationals who cannot be traced once they disappear with firearms.
Last month, the South African police destroyed more than 14,000 firearms at a steel manufacturing plant in Johannesburg.
Police Commissioner Riah Phiyega said 11,000 of the destroyed guns were illegal firearms confiscated by police.
Adele Kirsten of the advocacy group Gun Free South Africa welcomed President Zuma’s comments.
“Firearms are a key factor in the high crime rate in our country,” she told Anadolu Agency.
Kirsten said it was important to have a conversation on gun laws that could lead to a commitment to reducing gun deaths in the country.
According to her organization, 18 people are shot and killed by guns in South Africa every day and between 18 and 72 others survive an incident of gun violence on a daily basis, often with severe disabilities.
South Africa has a high crime rate, with 47 murders reported every day according to 2013/14 crime statistics released by the Police Ministry.
President Jacob Zuma encouraged communities to work with law enforcement agencies in the fight against crime and the creation of safer communities.
“We also urge our law enforcement officers to defend themselves against criminals within the confines of the law,” he said.
For their part, the Police, Prisons and Civil Rights Union (POPCRU) also want to see an improvement in relationship between police and the communities they serve, as well as regular training of police officers so that they can match tactics of criminals who attack them.
Johan Burger, a senior researcher at the Pretoria based Institute for Security Studies, believes the country needs to first focus on reducing the high crime rate before thinking of reforming gun laws or even the disarming of citizens.
“I think the best way is to first focus on reducing violent robberies that have increased by 18 percent,” he told Anadolu Agency.
Burger also said that the police needs to improve its crime intelligence units so as to tackle crime more efficiently.
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