The reasons why there are so many guns in South Africa

SOURCE: News24

The reasons why there are so many guns in criminal hands in South Africa

In light of the recent renewed attempts by Gun Free South Africa to encourage the implementation of yet more control over legally-held guns perhaps many people would like to hear some true facts gleaned from extensive research by myself, instead of a chorus of knee-jerk anti-gun catcalls!

We need to obtain a clear picture of the many reasons for violent crime in SA, and the existence of guns is but one factor in this and in fact not even the major factor, for in the absence of guns it is highly unlikely that our violent crime stats would markedly reduce. There are simply too many ways to kill and too many potential instruments available apart from guns.

Whilst all the focus is apparently on the licenced guns owned by the law-abiding (by definition they are law-abiding since they have abided by the law and obtained a licence as the law requires) and little is ever said about the millions of guns in circulation held by unknown people who did not bother with trivia such as licencing, we do need to grasp how, under the quite draconian laws existing to control the supply and availability of guns, there can be a high level of violence using guns.

So where do all these guns used by criminals come from then?

The organisation Gun Free South Africa will tell you that the main source of illegal guns is licenced guns stolen from legal owners – quote “The two major sources of illegal firearms in South Africa are loss and theft from licensed firearm owners and the state”.- Adele Kirsten, the Director of Gun Free South Africa – 2001 in an address to the UN Conference on the Illicit Trade in Small Arms arid Light Weapons in all its aspects July 8-20, 2001 New York, USA.

The contention outlined in this statement requires some very careful examination. Note that Kirsten completely fails to mention any possible source other than legal owners!.

Certainly guns are stolen from legal owners, just as every other possession is stolen by criminals at every opportunity and we would not deny that this is a problem.

However what is not mentioned is the recovery rate of such stolen weapons, which is quite high and is at least 50% if not more. This from the Gun Free SA website: “Finally, too many legal guns end up as illegal guns. Between 1994 and 2003, 66 licensed guns were reported lost or stolen every day! The police recovered about two thirds of these”

Due to a lack of statistical base data in SA accurate figures are impossible to come by – although Gun Free South Africa and others of their ilk frequently quote nebulous statistics based on little more than guesswork.

Thefts and sale of weapons from state sources is a growing phenomenon – as a result of the activities of straightforward theft by criminals and actions of corrupt persons employed in these organisations, including the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The large weapons caches hidden by the ANC in the years leading up to the 1994 elections remain hidden around South Africa – and some of these caches must be the source for weapons now used in crime.

Interestingly, at the time of negotiations leading to a democratic SA, the ANC was pressed to surrender their weapons caches in SA – this they bluntly refused to do, and to this day have not revealed this information – have they then destroyed these caches in the intervening years whilst in power? – absolutely not.(See Goldstone Report 1993). Evidence of these caches still turns up from time to time, to this day. Meanwhile there are undoubtedly people who do know where these weapons are hidden. What are they doing about this problem other than perhaps profiting from it?

Smuggling of weapons from neighbouring states

Nearby countries such as Mozambique and Zimbabwe remain a major problem, especially given the porous nature of our borders.

During the 1980s literally scores of thousands of automatic weapons were issued by the previous government, from military stocks to various political groupings such as Inkatha Freedom Party and others, to help fight the ANC. It is a known fact that the majority of these weapons are today unaccounted for, and presumably remain in what are now deemed ‘illegal’ hands.

For instance, it is estimated that some 3 000 G3 rifles were issued by the KwaZulu police to civilians such as ‘headmen and self-protection units’ at this time (Sunday Times, 20 August 1995). Arms were also issued to commando units of the SADF’s Area Defence System in rural areas. According to a Colonel Williams of the SANDF, there was poor weapons control and ‘it is doubtful whether the SANDF can provide an audit of the weapons it has provided the commandos in the past 20 years’ (Williams, 1995:6). In fact no audit has ever been called for or undertaken!

The same government also issued thousands of weapons in support of the anti-communist movement Renamo in Mozambique, and to aid Unita in Angola, and armed many of its ‘allies’ in Namibia to help them defend themselves against Swapo.

For example, almost 40 000 AKs were purchased by the Nationalist government from Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Hungary and China between 1976 and 1986 specifically to be given to Unita (Cameron Commission, 1995). At the conclusion of ‘hostilities’ in countries such as we refer to, there was no effective disarmament and collection of these weapons, with the result that virtually all of these have found their way to the ‘black market’. Since the biggest demand at the highest prices emanates from SA this is where many of these weapons of war have ended up, easily smuggled through SA’s porous borders.

Meanwhile ‘Operation Rachel’ begun in 1995 and ended 2001, searched for weapons dumps in Mozambique in an attempt to stem the flow of military weaponry into SA.

INTERPOL reported that some 1.5 million AK-47s and handguns had been distributed to the civilian population during the course of the war in Mozambique. (Take a second to absorb that staggering number!). The government distributed tens of thousands of AK-47s to civilian militia units in 1982. Few of these were ever returned.

As Joao Baptista, a Frelimo soldier from Massingir AA explained:
” We knew that guns make good business. So we kept the best for ourselves. I have sold some to dealers from Joni and I keep others for the future. The secret is to keep them in good condition. Frelimo was never going to pay us for the years we were made to fight. We have to look after ourselves ”

The statistics claimed for weapons caches found and destroyed in Mozambique appear impressive – but are actually pitifully insignificant in light of the true numbers known to exist. Perhaps for every AK47 or Makarov pistol destroyed another 20 are smuggled into South Africa to find a home with criminal gangs like the 9 man gang that recently robbed a supermarket using AKs and Soviet-era pistols not far from this writer’s home. Was this perhaps the same 9-man gang which held up the a local supermarket 18 months ago, in which this writer had a Makarov pistol held to his head, as all the shoppers were herded to the rear of the shop, while the three “heavies” with the AK47s were busy opening and robbing the tills and the safe?

Assistant Commissioner  Mike Fryer, head of the SAPS Task Force in charge of Operation Rachel had this to say during Op. Rachel in November 2009.

“To date we have had 26 operations into Mozambique under the banner of Operation Rachel,” says Mike Fryer. During those operations we have destroyed just on 40 000 small arms including rifles and hand guns, 22,5 million rounds of ammunition, more than 12 000 mortar bombs and 13 500 rockets together with a host of hand grenades, mines and other ordinance.

This statement is completely out of kilter with what was reported in 2001, in a report prepared by the “Commanding Structures Joint Police Services – Operation Rachel” at the end of Op.Rachel which are as follows: (read the report at

Rachel Operations final statistics (Rachel 1 to Rachel 5 operations):

Firearms*: 11 891
Pistols: 106

*Although not made clear in the document, we presume this means “firearms other than pistols” – unless it means that the TOTAL of all types of firearms was 11 891, of which 106 were pistols – who can tell?

Clearly we, the public are being fed a steaming pile of nonsense here, not in terms of the report which is probably largely truthful, but in terms of many press releases put out by SAPS, ISS etc whilst Op.Rachel was ongoing, designed to assure us of the great success being enjoyed in removing the scourge of illegal guns.

Whilst in the releases and the final report much play is made on the destruction of rocket launchers, anti personnel mines and other devices of warfare, I do not recall any home invasions, supermarket robberies, cash-in-transit heists etc where such weapons were favoured by the criminals – rather they seem to like firearms such as AKs and Makarov and Tokarev pistols – of which so few have been recovered under Op. Rachel that it is indeed laughable!


One must seriously ask “Why not be truthful and get the job done?”

I believe that the simple fact is that it is quite IMPOSSIBLE to hoover up the many millions of small arms scattered around Southern Africa – and it would be far too costly even if it such a project could seriously be embarked upon. Meanwhile government feels it must be seen to be doing something, so it indulges in a bit of window-dressing and sets in motion the disinformation exercises it needs to reassure the public and appear responsible and proactive. Of course once the government has declared success in removing weapons caches, what is then left to attack and demonise? – only legal and licenced gun-owners, and this is where the handmaidens of oppressive government can get to work, in the form of GFSA aiding government to bring in more restrictive laws and later, at any opportunity, incrementally demanding more and more controls over those weapons and people – as we see happening today!

“The philosophy of gun control: Teenagers are roaring through town at 90 MPH, where the speed limit is 25. Your solution is to lower the speed limit to 20.” — Sam Cohen”.

So when Gun Free SA and others loudly proclaim that the main source for illegal weapons is theft and loss by legal owners one needs to take a very sceptical view – and understand the minor scale in terms of numbers of those guns when compared to guns which come from arms caches held by political parties of all complexions including our own ANC party now in power, from the SA military stocks (negligently managed – approx. 23 000 admitted by government to have been lost so far since 1994!) and from ex-combatants like Joao Baptista and many others no doubt, who have found a new career as arms smugglers with a virtually unlimited supply.

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SATAC Research & Analytics Team

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