Speaking during an exercise in which he and national police commissioner Khehla Sitole oversaw the destruction of 30,039 firearms at Arcelor Mittal’s plant in Vereeniging on Wednesday, Police Minister Bheki Cele said South Africa would be better off if only its armed forces, and not private citizens, had access to firearms.
“It would be better if one day we don’t have private citizens having guns at all. It’s a tall order going forward but it would be better if, one day, only the armed forces – namely police and soldiers – have [access to] guns,” said the minister.
The government news agency reports that most of the firearms that were destroyed were surrendered to the state by their rightful owners while others were either seized or forfeited to the state.
The last time such an exercise was conducted was in October 2016, a delay Cele attributed to firearms that were sought for historical purposes.
“We have organisations with requests to find museum material, which are taken to museums. We [have] since spoken with the commissioner. We will need a memorandum of understanding with those organisations to say we are no longer going to wait for too long because we all realise that keeping them there in the storerooms is tempting criminals,” explained Cele.
“We still have 60,000 of them in the storeroom. I can assure you that it will not take a year to destroy them to cut off naughty ideas people might have,” he added.
Capitalising on the occasion, the minister highlighted the importance of getting guns off the streets.
“It’s important to say that we are looking at the next batch [to be destroyed]. We are trying to squeeze in the time for that so that we don’t keep these guns in the crime market for very long,” Cele explained.
The minister believes the removal of guns from the streets, either through the actions of the police or by citizens surrendering them, is of significant importance to the country’s crime statistics.
“Remember that when we make our murder stats, most of the people in South Africa are shot. Even those guns that have been surrendered here – usually they all come as legal firearms and then they get stolen and converted into illegal firearms,” he said.