Many South Africans carry firearms believing they will protect them from crime, but cases of mistaken identity are more prevalent than the public is aware of, says a crime expert.
A 51-year-old father, Sibusiso Tshabalala, faces a murder charge after he allegedly shot his son Luyanda, 16, dead on Tuesday in a tragic case of mistaken identity.
The incident occurred when Tshabalala was waiting to pick up his son outside the Fred Norman Secondary School in Ennerdale, an area known for pandemic levels of violent crimes, including rape, murder and hijackings.
Gareth Newham, crime expert at the Institute for Security Studies, said the risks of people carrying firearms were not highlighted enough.
Some have taken to social media to compare the Tshabalala incident to Oscar Pistorius, who shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, claiming to have mistaken her for an intruder.
But Newham cautioned against this.
“I think it’s not similar to the Pistorius trial. He was found guilty of murder because he didn’t just shoot once.
“The only time it is legal for you to use your firearm is when you are defending yourself and you believe someone is about to or is committing grievous bodily harm to you – and that was not the case with Pistorius.”
Owning a firearm posed far more risks to the owner than being without one, Newham said.
“Every year in South Africa, a certain number of people will accidentally shoot their loved ones or people they know – and it is not all covered by the media.
“But it does happen and these are just one of the many risks of owning and carrying a firearm. There is a perception that if one owns a firearm you are going to be safer but in South Africa, research shows that you are more likely to lose your firearm than to successfully use it to defend yourself.”
Licensed firearms in private hands also had the highest risk of being stolen and ending up in far more dangerous hands.
Last year, out of 9 000 licensed firearms reported stolen, only 760 were stolen from police and other government departments. The rest were largely taken from private owners.