South Africa would be better off if only its armed forces and not private citizens had access to firearms, Police Minister Bheki Cele said on Wednesday.
“It would be better if one day we don’t have private citizens having guns at all. It’s a tall order going forward but it would be better if one day, only the armed forces namely police and soldiers having [access to] guns,” said the Minister.
The Minister accompanied by National Police Commissioner Khehla Sitole, oversaw the destruction of 30 039 firearms at Arcelor Mittal’s plant in Vereeniging.
Most of the firearms which included rifles, were surrendered to the state by their rightful owners.
The others were either seized or forfeited to the state. Wednesday’s destruction process at which the Minister and the Commissioner inspected a vast array of firearms is the first to be conducted since October 2016.
Asked about why it took long to destroy the firearms, Cele said one of the reasons for the delay was around firearms which were sought for historical purposes.
“We have organisations for requests to find museum material which are taken to museums, we [have] since spoken with the Commissioner. We will need a Memorandum of Understanding with those organisations to say we are no longer going to wait for too long because we all realise that keeping them there in the storerooms, is tempting criminals,” said the Minister.
He added that a further 60 000 firearms are still to be destroyed.
“We still have 60 000 of them in the storeroom, I can assure you that it will not take a year to destroy them to cut off naughty ideas people might have,” he said.
The Minister highlighted the importance of getting guns off the streets.
“It’s important to say that we are looking at the next batch [to be destructed] we are trying to squeeze in the time for that so that we don’t keep these guns in the crime market for very long,” he said.
He added that the removal of guns off the streets either “through the actions of the police” or by citizens surrendering of significant importance to the country’s crime statistics.
“Remember that when we make our murder stats, most of the people in South Africa are shot, even those guns that have been surrendered here, usually they all come as legal firearms and then they get stolen and converted into illegal firearms,” he said.