Illegal Guns in South Africa

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

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. 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 refused to do, and to this day have not revealed this information - have they then destroyed these caches in the intervening 13 years whilst in power? - we do not know, but doubt it.(See Goldstone Report 1993)


Smuggling of weapons from neighbouring states such as Mozambique and Zimbabwe remains a major problem. It is estimated that there are currently (mid 2007) some 3000 illegal aliens from Zimbabwe crossing the northern border of SA each week, fleeing the tyrannical government of Mugabe and Zanu-PF and the economic meltdown of that country. As a result of the fact that firstly the majority of these so-called refugees have no money and few portable possessions of value, and secondly that even if they have money the Zimbabwe dollar is worthless and untradeable, a form of negotiable currency which some bring into SA is an AK47 or two, which can easily be sold to gangsters on the streets of any city in South Africa.

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).

"However, Operation Rachel has in fact had limited success. The co-operation by the Mozambican authorities has been mixed and there has been a series of scandals involving tipping off arms traffickers prior to raids and involvement of both South African officials and their Mozambican counterparts with these traffickers." Alex Vines - Chatham House

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, 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 had been distributed to the civilian population during the course of the war in Mozambique. The government distributed tens of thousands of AK-47s to civilian militia units in 1982. Few of these were ever returned.

As Joao Baptista, an ex-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 (Johannesburg) 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, Makarov or Tokarev 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 near this writer's home, using AKs and Soviet-era pistols, in which hold-up he had a Makarov pistol held to his head, as all the shoppers were herded to the rear of the shop, while the three "heavies" armed with AK47s were busy opening and robbing the tills and the safe?


Can anyone really claim Op. Rachel a success (as was loudly trumpeted at the time) when we see such relatively tiny percentages recovered? Never forget a gun is for ever if looked after, and the vast majority are still in existence and by now most probably in dubious hands in South Africa!


In addition to all of this, we have not even addressed the problem posed by the import to SA illegally before 1994 of at at least 100 tons of light weapons by "Operation Vula". To ensure continued violent resistance should negotiations with the "apartheid" government fail, the ANC needed to ensure it could continue killing and maiming and using "backpacker" tourist trips etc.' smuggled these arms across the border and cached them at secret locations, known to the trusted insiders only! Those caches have never been revealed, but undoubtedly those weapons still exist!

Never forget a gun is for ever if looked after, and the vast majority are still in existence and by now most probably in dubious hands in South Africa!


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, as a result of their own smuggling efforts of the past, from the SA military stocks (negligently managed - see here) and from ex-combatants like Joao Baptista Arms Dealer, who have found a new career as gun-runners with a virtually unlimited and free supply.

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The site is dedicated to ensuring that people of South Africa understand the truth about 'gun-control', as it is currently applied and correcting some of the myths and propaganda with which organisations like Gun Free South Africa have deceived the government and many citizens of South Africa.

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