This week in 1994: Democracy 25

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This week we focus on arms control in South Africa.

In the 80s, liberation movements used the international border between South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique to smuggle firearms.

Apartheid South Africa also used to supply the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) with guns in its fight against the ruling – Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo).

This trend continued during the early 90s during the KwaZulu-Natal state-sponsored political violence, which later spilled to Gauteng. The Freedom Party (IFP), the African National Congress (ANC) and the United Democratic Front (UDF) were involved in the fighting.

Independent Researcher and Violence Monitor Mary De Haas says KwaZulu-Natal is still awash with weapons that were used in the political violence.

An agreement between governments of South Africa, Swaziland and Mozambique aimed at curbing arms smuggling between the three countries was reported by Radio Maputo to have been signed on 4 August 1994.

Despite this, however, De Haas says gun movement in the country and the continent remains a concern.

At the height of cash heists in the 2017/2018 financial year, criminals were reported to have outgunned the police in some instances, using AK47s, R5 and R1 assault rifles.

Taxis, trucks and private vehicles are cited as possible carriers of illegal ammunition and guns. Ports of entry are other areas of concern, according to De Haas.

She says lax border controls and rogue security companies are also problematic.

“A lot of the companies that are running around with guns are not registered with PSIRA or their permits have lapsed. Now that is a major problem we are sitting with.”

De Haas is urging South Africans to hold police to account for failing to discharge their Constitutional duty.

The Researcher says government has failed to tackle the gun problem properly in the 25 years it’s been in power.

“Government has not done what it should have done guns that were stockpiles, that kept coming in and guns that have proliferated in the security and the taxi industry. They haven’t done what they should have done to stop guns going missing from the police. They haven’t as far as we know penalised people in the police who don’t keep proper controls of their guns.”

De Haas says the lack of transformation in the police service is another impediment to the battle against illegal firearms.

She is calling for an overhaul of the crime intelligence service and pro-active policing.