Maverick Citizen


30 people die by the gun every day in SA – it’s time to stop the violence

30 people die by the gun every day in SA – it’s time to stop the violence

Thirty people are shot and killed every day in South Africa. Guns are now the leading cause of murder in South Africa. It is essential that the perpetrators of violent crimes are prosecuted. However, this reactive response to crime must be accompanied by proactive up-stream action to reduce the availability of guns in South Africa.

Two weeks ago 23 people were shot dead in a spate of gun massacres in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. On Friday night two much-loved celebrities, AKA and Tebello “Tibz” Motsoane, lost their lives to gun violence outside a restaurant in Durban. These shootings bring into focus a change in the pattern of South Africa’s gun violence: there are more shootings in which multiple people are shot multiple times in public places. 

As happened after the tavern massacres in 2022, the response has focused on considering possible motives for the shooting of these mostly young black men, and on bringing the perpetrators to book. 

Our speculations about why these high-profile shootings occurred must be contextualised with the fact that, according to the SAPS’ recorded crime statistics between April and June 2022, 30 people are shot and killed every day in South Africa. The motives for these murders are wide-ranging, and include hits, taxi route feuds, gender-based violence, robbery-related murders, gang shootouts, arguments and organised crime.

While the “why” of shootings varies widely, what all these murders have in common is a gun. Every single person shot and killed would be alive if there hadn’t been a gun. 

The intersection between gun availability and death is complex. (Image: iStock)

Guns are designed to kill, and they’re doing just this – at an increasing rate. In late 2010, South Africa started seeing an increase in gun deaths, from a “low” of 18 people a day in 2009 to 30 in 2022. Nationally guns have replaced knives as the leading cause of murder, and in Gauteng they have replaced traffic accidents as the leading cause of non-natural death. 

This rise in gun violence coincides with an increase in the flow of guns into communities. The causes include poor implementation of South Africa’s Firearms Control Act (2000) by the state and poor compliance by gun owners, including exploitation of loopholes in the law to accumulate weapons and ammunition; and fraud and corruption by all stakeholders in the firearms chain, from the police to gun dealers, trainers, associations and owners. 

All have contributed to rising gun numbers. 

The gun industry, for example, has blatantly used the increase in violent crime and the climate of fear to advertise their wares, encouraging individuals to get better and bigger guns with more lethal ammunition.

The scene where 15 people were shot at the Emazulwini Tavern in Soweto, Johannesburg, on 10 July 2022. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

The intersection between gun availability and death is complex. Wealthy nations like Switzerland have high levels of gun ownership, but low gun murder rates, though their rate of male gun-related suicide is high. Middle- and low-income nations like South Africa show a different pattern – as gun ownership increases so do gun-related murders. 

Read in Daily Maverick:South Africa’s rise in mass shootings points to a failure of crime intelligence

The impact of gun availability on a country’s level of violence is influenced by its “gun-control regime”. These regimes include effective policing and criminal justice systems, systems of political accountability, welfare safety nets, comprehensive education provision and cultures of trust and confidence. 

With rising crime, a weak criminal justice system, as well as forceful marketing by the firearms industry that guns are effective for self-defence, gun dealers in South Africa are reporting a surge in sales, particularly since the July 2021 unrest. 

The US saw a similar surge in gun sales in 2020 and 2021 as millions were bought for protection in response to the socioeconomic devastation wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic and protests linked to the presidential election. Research in the US has already linked pandemic gun sales to an increase in gun-related deaths in that country.

At the heart of the arms race in South Africa is the myth that guns are effective for self-defence. There is no evidence anywhere in the world that more guns make people safer. There is overwhelming evidence that guns increase the risk for injury and death for everyone in our society. 

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For example, a new study undertaken by Wits University, the University of Cape Town and the Medical Research Council, which looks at robbery-related murders in South Africa, found that while robbery-homicide is relatively rare, the increased risk of being killed in a robbery can be linked to victims who are older white men and to the likelihood that victims are armed and resist attack. 

Guns are not the solution: they do not help build safer communities.

So, while it is essential that the perpetrators of violent crimes are prosecuted, this reactive response to crime must be accompanied by proactive up-stream action to reduce the availability of guns in South Africa.

Read in Daily Maverick:The other side of Sona – Suffering Nation, Seething Nation

Dealing with the scale of the problem right now requires a clear strategy and good intelligence, and the focus has to shift from not only arresting the criminals but also to recovering and destroying the guns so as to stop them being used again and again, as well as to stopping guns leaking into criminal hands in the first place.

We need decisive action to stop the gun violence virus in South Africa. 

Police officers and forensic experts at the homestead where seven people were shot and killed in Qunu village near Mthatha, Eastern Cape, on 2 January 2023. (Photo: Hoseya Juabse)

Three immediate actions by the government can help stop the slaughter: First, prioritise the voices of residents living with high levels of gun violence and not a vocal but small minority of gun owners. 

Second, table the unjustifiably delayed Firearms Control Amendment Bill in Parliament to limit guns and owners, since licensed guns are the biggest source of illegal guns in South Africa. 

Finally, establish and resource a specialised firearms unit to recover and destroy legal and illegal guns and ammunition and tighten controls over legal guns and ammunition to stop leakage into criminal hands.

Fewer guns means a safer South Africa. DM/MC

Adèle Kirsten is the director of Gun Free South Africa.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Tim Price says:

    Anti firearm propaganda,nothing more. It’s already hard to buy and lisence a firearm here and I suspect banning guns altogether would not change the death rate. Police weapons would still be lost/stolen and even more illegal weapons would be imported. Policing failures and a rotten government that inhibits economic growth are prime drivers of all crime.

  • R S says:

    I agree that guns are the problem, but I also completely understand why someone would want a gun. South African criminals are arming themselves with even more deadly guns, including assault rifles like AK47s, and the people who are supposed to protect us are either connected to the criminals or woefully under-resourced. (I personally prefer less-lethal deterrents when it comes to protect oneself, and would openly embrace a gun-free society if we could).

    Also, can the author provide links to the “licensed guns are the biggest source of illegal guns in South Africa” since they have clearly linked other material in your piece?

  • Willem Boshoff says:

    Every responsible, law abiding citizen should have the right to be able to defend themselves and their loved ones against the murderous thugs who seem to mostly use illegal/unlicensed firearms in any case. Solve the country’s policing crisis and then reassess the data; if there’s a material contribution to murders due to legal guns, then by all means, attack gun ownership. At this stage everything is lobbed together and makes for a sloppy analysis of the issue; the author’s agenda is not well supported imho.

  • David C says:

    While the problem of gun violence is well articulated, the suggested remedy is complete and utter nonsense. There are, on average, 38 road deaths per day in SA -using the same logic as the author, we should see far fewer road deaths if we simply removed motorised vehicles. Gun-free proponents, particularly in SA, never explain how illegal firearms will be reduced. Our government cannot keep approximately 8 million illegal people out of SA – how will they prevent illegal weapons from entering the country. Reduction of homicides, through any means, is a function of education, socioeconomic improvement, improved policing and legal functions etc. Anytime an anti-gun lobbyist pipes up, simply point to the Swiss example (more than 25% of the population own a private gun) as why gun reduction is not a remedy to gun deaths.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    As long as the police cannot fulfill their mandate, the right to self defense needs to be upheld. Over 7 million 10111 calls dropped, police taking hours to respond to calls etc. These are no myths, they are pretty much daily reality. Much of the violence is perpetrated by illegal guns, guns that were stolen from the police themselves etc. yet none of that is even mentioned in this very one sided article.

    Sure, ban automatic weapons, make it a little harder to obtain licenses, run proper checks and assessments on applicants and repeat them in 5 year intervals etc, but banning guns for self defense is not a solution in this country.

    As for studies linking race to robbery gun fatalities, sounds like they were extremely narrow in their sources. They really only looked at reported robbery homicide with 10 year old data, for very specific income groups and areas. Is that study trying to paint a racial problem on this topic? Should we not resist being attacked by criminals especially since our government is failing so spectacularly protecting its citizens? Would it be better to start stabbing your local robbers in seld defence or just let them tie you up and rape your partner (granted extreme example but quite real)? How many studies have been done on the amount of robberies that have been thwarted due to the home owner having a gun, or how many robberies didn’t even take place because the would be criminals knew it is more risky to attack that house? Let’s discuss but properly

  • Steven D says:

    Adèle always seems to pop-up at times when there is a spate of gun violence but NEVER following frequent stories of guns saving their owners’ lives when confronted by violent crime. It simply does not suit her propaganda-based narrative to address this simple question and the resultant fact: the SAPS is a failing (failed?) entity; it is practically a non-feature in the fight against crime. So, what should the innocents do in the face of this abject failure? Stand by and watch?

    It is abhorrent to suggest that legal gun owners, who have to jump through miles-high hoops to own their firearms, are responsible for the increase of guns getting to malevolent hands and the impact that follows. Adèle cannot get around the fact that it is the SAPS which is the cause of this crisis.

    Does she realise how ludicrous she sounds when she says, ‘Legal firearm owners have complied with the law but must have their firearms removed from their hands in any event’?

  • Berthold Alheit says:


  • Craig Cauvin says:

    What an incredibly biased, one sided rant. This article is just sloppy and lazy, never mind exceptionally disrespectful to try and leverage the death of yet another talented young South African to push the authors biased agenda – really DM, you can do better.

    There is no doubt this is a serious issue which should be debated rationally with due consideration of all the facts, not just those which support the authors blatantly obvious narrow minded agenda.

    I wonder if the right of reply will enjoy the same airtime?

  • L Dennis says:

    Totally disagree with illogical Adèle it is illegal guns that kill. Why dont you focus on the illegal mining taking place? Did you see the illegal guns /AK 47 s there? Also many other areas this creative thoughts of yours might bring relieve. Leave the law abiding citizens that has to protect themselves and their families in peace. Gun free making SA a safer place? Do you live in South Africa?

  • David Purchase says:

    Typical Gun Free SA plain dumb thought process and illogic.
    Quote: “The motives for these murders are wide-ranging, and include hits, taxi route feuds, gender-based violence, robbery-related murders, gang shootouts, arguments and organised crime. While the “why” of shootings varies widely, what all these murders have in common is a gun. Every single person shot and killed would be alive if there hadn’t been a gun”. No Shit Sherlock!!! The various motives specifically mentioned undoubtedly account for the majority of SA gun related killings daily (Hits, Gangs, Organized Criminals/feuds). If you want to significantly reduce the supposedly 30 a day gun killings, then SAPS need to take these specific weapons away from the criminals. Taking weapons away from home defense, licensed owners is not going to stop or reduce these killings. Gun Free SA – rather concentrate your entire focus at this stage on gunning (I just love it) for the illegal firearms trade in SA and you can start your effort with the SAPS lack of ability to control this situation.

  • Deon Botha-Richards says:

    If you remove guns those that want to kill will find other ways.

    Oh sure, there’s research that shows the that freely Ava guns do increase the ease of committing a capital crime but banning them won’t eliminate them entirely. Especially not in the circumstances listed.

    GBV violations will probably be reduced. But whilst there are way too man6 instances of this they are not the major statistic in gun deaths.

    It’s already extreme hard to get a license. The process is arduous and takes extremely long.

    Most crime is committed with an unlicensed firearm. Illegal guns don’t go away when you ban law abiding citizens from owning them.

  • nickha says:

    To ban the right to lawfully have a licenced firearm in your possession will not solve the problem of death by firearm. The illegal trade in stolen firearms is probably responsible for most killings. The SAP also “lose” firearms throughout the year that comes onto the possession of criminals. I handed in a firearm to my local police station two years ago with my application for renewal of my licence and has not heard anything further. I can only wonder if the SAP still have the firearm in a safe somewhere or did it come into the possession of some criminal? To punish responsible gun owners really does not make much sense. The SAP contribute to a large extent to the current sorry state of affairs.

  • Guntram Buchhold says:

    I personally have thwarted 2 attempts of armed robbery on my property due to the fact that I have a gun. I only fired warning shots because I saw them the moment they came on my property on my
    camera system. I agree with Elmarie that i seems that Adele does not seem to live in South Africa but
    La La Land. When all the legal guns would be handed in the robbers would even be better armed
    because it will happen like with that amnesty years ago when a lot of these weapons were sold by some policemen to the criminals again. Every time a high profile gun murder happens she starts ranting and raving about her agenda. At the last robbery attempt I could supply the police with videos where two of guys faces were as clear as passport photos. After the police grilled me for 20 minutes why I said I fired 3 shots but they found 4 casings the one policeman asked me if I could post the pictures on facebook so maybe they could catch the guys. Of course nothing came off the
    “investigation”. If Adele would put her energy into making the police more efficient ( or efficient at all) I would be her greatest fan and on a regular basis support her efforts financially even.
    If she would succeed I would blame her for every home invasion rape,torture ( as it happened to my neighbours) and murder personally.

  • Ian Callender-Easby says:

    Ya well no fine.

  • John Cartwright says:

    I will never have a firearm in my home for the purpose of protection (or for any other reason, actually). For it to be effective, I would have to have it permanently at my side and be expecting a violent attack at any time, and would have to be so ready and skilled that I could outwit and outshoot an armed professional criminal. What an appalling state of mind to live with. No thank you.

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