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By Thando Nondywana

News Reporter

Criminologist warns of South Africa’s escalating illegal firearm crisis

University students caught in crossfire as illegal firearms flood streets, highlighting the deadly impact of SA's crime epidemic.

South Africa’s soaring gun violence and crime paints a bleak picture of the imploding illegal firearm crisis, warns a criminologist.

His comments follow the death and injury of two University of Johannesburg (UJ) students who were caught in a crossfire between warring taxi factions in Braamfontein, Joburg, last Thursday. Two taxi owners were also killed.

Escalating crime crisis

Reports of heightened illegal firearms and ammunition that flood South African streets is an indication of the escalating crime crisis, with some calling for government to take drastic action against illegal firearms.

The murder rate has sharply increased since 2011 and in certain parts of the country where children are being regularly caught in the crossfire.

“The firearms that are used were legally owned either by the state police or private security companies or ordinary citizens.

READ MORE: Taxi violence claims a life: Blade Nzimande visits family of UJ student fatally shot in Braamfontein

“Those weapons either get stolen or lost and end up in criminal hands,” said Dr Guy Lamb, a senior lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch who has done extensive research and work on arms control, violence reduction, urban safety and policing in Africa.

“With easy access to firearms and ammunition, which seems to be the problem in South Africa, you tend to see firearms featuring a lot more prominently in crime.

“As a result, we are seeing a lot of exchanges between criminals and victims or perpetrators and victims [where] firearms are used, often it is done increasingly in public spaces.”

7 710 murdered between October and December

Third quarter crime stats revealed that 7 710 people were murdered between October and December 2023, with Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal leading provinces contributing to the murder rates.

“We’re having criminals who are armed. Criminals have access to ammunition. And criminals who aren’t particularly concerned about the safety of ordinary people,” said Lamb.

READ MORE: Confirmed: University of Johannesburg student killed in Braamfontein shooting

“They are just interested in killing, injuring their targets and if other people get in the way, they don’t care.”

Lamb suggested a multifaceted approach to dealing with the crisis.

He cited intensified approach in crime operations to root out illegal firearms, increase in firearm amnesties and a more efficient Central Firearms Registry.

In 2021, a proposal to introduce tighter firearms control suggested a ban on owning guns for self-defence but this was met with resistance from gun lobby groups.

“The database of the Central Firearms Registry has been problematic and dysfunctional. That’s something that can be done to help the police to provision them better and establish a functional database system that they can use to do their investigations. The police have been hamstrung by a defective electronic system,” said Lamb.

READ MORE: Fatal shooting rocks Braamfontein: University student among three dead

Student killed by stray bullet

Second year UJ student Nkosingiphile Nxumalo was killed by a stray bullet in a drive-by shooting believed to be taxi-related.

The other student Dimpho Mosia is recovering at the Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, with gunshot wounds to his face.

Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation Blade Nzimande on a visit to the two families said they are addressing the concerns.

“We have already two safety and security summits with our universities,” he said.

“Although a situation like this is difficult to prevent, in order to try and make our campuses safe, we do need safety and security committees similar to community policing forums so that we are able to have intelligence and pick up where they may be problems.”

READ MORE: Man arrested after taking family hostage and shooting three police officers

The incident has sparked growing concerns over safety around university precincts.

Measures to address concern

Dr Marcia Socikwa, deputy director-general of Unisa, who worked with planning of the safety and security summits with police and security companies, said measures were implemented to address concerns.

“The safety around precincts needs to be looked at closely to enhance security. When we met with the heads of security, we agreed that we are going to have common security protocols,” she said.

“Once that work is finalised, we will have a blueprint for the entire sector. Hopefully that will enhance safety and security for our students.”

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