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Opinionista

South Africa’s rise in mass shootings points to a failure of crime intelligence

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Dr Cresencia Nyathi is a human rights coordinator at Africa Unite. Lelethu Nogwavu is a human rights project development officer at Africa Unite and a PhD Candidate in public law at the University of Cape Town.

Special police operations need to be established to focus on the confiscation of illegal firearms and ammunition, particularly in high-risk areas. This is crucial because the accessibility of illegal firearms hastens violent crime.

South Africa, with its estimated population of more than 60.1 million, has changed in recent years as the government grappled with prevalent inequities, generations of neglect and a developmental backlog created by the apartheid era.

The country has seen a significant increase in drug trafficking, vehicle theft and hijacking, money heists and illegal mining conflicts since 1994, most of which can be linked directly to groups of organised crime — in short, South Africa has a huge crime problem that does not appear to be going away, as the country has one of the highest murder rates in the world and violent crime remains shockingly high.

For example, in February 2022, Police Minister Bheki Cele stated that the murder rate increased by 8.9% quarter on quarter in the fourth quarter of the fiscal year 2021/22.

Identifying the root cause of the high crime rate has been difficult. Most mass shootings in South Africa have been linked to gang disagreements, rivalries in the minibus taxi sector, intraparty or inter-group infighting and illegal gold mining (zama zamas).

From July to November 2022, we observed gun violence at taverns, with 25 people killed in four distinct tragedies at taverns across South Africa in early July. On 9 July, for example, 16 people were killed in a shooting at a tavern in Orlando East, four people were killed in Soweto and four more were killed in Pietermaritzburg.

The intentions behind the murders are presently unclear; nevertheless, established investigation implies that violent acts in South Africa are most often perpetrated by organised crime groups with intentions frequently connected to contest over territorial control.

For years, the issue of gun control and citizens’ access to firearms has been a hot topic in South Africa. Cele has stated on several occasions that South African citizens ought not to have access to firearms. The government has also made it increasingly difficult for law-abiding citizens to purchase firearms, as the Firearms Control Amendment Bill seeks to make it illegal for South Africans to apply for firearm permits for self-defence.

So far, the government’s response has been to cut the police budget, which means basically a smaller police force.


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The recent increase in these mass shooting cases, which are entirely unconnected to one another, raises concerns about the efficiency of the police and crime intelligence. It is disconcerting that the fundamental rights of people such as the right to life, liberty of movement, personal security, and the protection of inherent dignity have been repeatedly threatened by the effects of violent crime.

In summary, the recent increase in gun violence has caused massive fear and illustrates the obvious need for improved crime intelligence reliability in South Africa. Given this, crime intelligence must focus efforts on this problem now more than ever to prevent similar attacks from taking place in the future.

Special police operations need to be established to focus on the confiscation of illegal firearms and ammunition, particularly in high-risk areas. This is crucial because the accessibility of illegal guns hastens violent crime.

It is disturbing that almost 5,000 certified firearms are reported stolen in South Africa each year, with the majority of these being used to commit robberies, murders and attempted murders. As a result, it is desirable that firearm laws be tightened to reduce the diversion of firearms into the hands of criminals.

To reduce the prevalence of gun violence, the performance of crime intelligence must be enhanced. To ensure that those responsible for mass shootings are made liable, police crime intelligence units must begin proactively identifying and tracking the operations of various groups. If this is not done, we risk a repetition since gun violence stimulates further hostile attacks because the use of violence to resolve conflicts is now normalised.

Given the nature and complexities of violent crime, it would be irresponsible to give the criminal justice system sole control and monitoring of such atrocities as its actions are reactive rather than preventative.

A joint approach involving both social development and law enforcement, particularly crime intelligence, is called for. DM

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