News | South Africa
The demonstrable inability of the police to protect people during unrest has brought up the self-defence debate again after the closing of the window for public comment on the Firearms Amendment Bill of 2021 this week.
Yesterday, Police Minister Bheki Cele said police were working hard to bring to book the instigators of the events that resulted in the deaths of 342 people in Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal during last month’s looting spree.
Cele said the events in Phoenix in KwaZulu-Natal claimed the lives of 36 people. Most were shot, while two burnt to death, one was stabbed and another was run over by a vehicle.
“On 12 July, community members in Phoenix set up blockades and patrolled the neighbourhood streets after the start of mass looting and unrest in Durban,” Cele said.
He added that the situation rapidly deteriorated when the streets of Phoenix became scenes of crime after some people operating the checkpoints started racially profiling people, preventing their entry into the suburb.
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“This incident, we believe sparked other incidents of stoning and burning of vehicles and further violence including shootings, stabbings and assaults,” Cele said.
Police were investigating 52 cases of attempted murder and probing nine cases of common assault, plus 16 cases of assault grievously bodily harm. Cele said a team of 31 experienced detectives from the province and national service was deployed to investigate the incidents which led to the arrest of 22 suspects.
Some of these suspects were allegedly connected to several murder cases, while others face charges relating to attempted murder, malicious property damage and defeating the ends of justice.
Marnus Kamfer of AfriForum said the police could not protect citizens from the wave of crime.
“This was formally confirmed before parliament for the first time in 2018 by Khehla Sitole, national commissioner of the police,” said Kamfer.
He added that on 29 July it was again stated in parliament by Sitole that the police were “hindered” and could not fulfil their duties.
“In the past 12 years, approximately 26 025 firearms have been lost from the police. So we are sitting with a police service that cannot protect the citizens and this also contributes to the flow of illegal firearms that are used in attacks on innocent law-abiding citizens,” Kamfer said.
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Self-defence is a reasoned principle in South Africa law, but only as far as it relates to a person, says Dr Johan Burger of the Institute for Security Studies’ (ISS).
“You have the right to defend yourself or anybody else in your immediate vicinity if your life is threatened or you are threatened with serious bodily injury.”
He added that a person was also allowed to use force to protect themselves, which may include deadly force.
“The bottom line here is that is only the defence of a person, not a property,” Burger said.
“Although the Constitutional Court hasn’t given us a judgment yet to finally settle the debate in terms of accepted force in SA, deadly force in defence of property would be unlawful.”
He said there were two clear camps on firearms.
“Those who believe the possession of firearms in terms of self-defence can’t be tolerated and the other camp that believes that because of high crime and the demonstrated inability of the police to protect us, individuals have the right to defend themselves in terms of the constitution.”
Two weeks ago, chairperson of the SA Gun Owners’ Association Damian Enslin wrote a letter to President Cyril Ramaphosa to plead for the draconian Firearms Control Amendment Bill of 2021 to be withdrawn.
The association’s president, advocate John Welch, said the decision to defend oneself against unlawful and armed violence was personal.
Welch said nobody should be forced into such a decision because to defend oneself with a firearm has many consequences.
“Having said this, the responsible and armed citizen remains the first responder to violent crime, since we know the police’s response time to crime is on average about 30 minutes, if not longer.”
Gabriel Crouse from the Institute of Race Relations (IRR) said more than 21 000 South Africans have rejected the government’s proposed ban on owning guns for self-defence through the campaign mounted by the IRR against the Firearms Control Amendment Bill.
“A further more than 200 000 people have registered their opposition through other civil rights organisations and political parties,” he added.
“The amendment, beyond its ‘self-defence’ ban, will make sports shooting impracticable, heritage collections will be confiscated without compensation and the tourism around hunting will be impacted.”