When South Africa held its first democratic elections in 1994, the ANC was representative of the largest (by far) of 11 or so tribes – the Xhosas and their members clashed violently with the opposition Zulus as well as other minority tribes. The violence escalated to hordes of panga wielding Native South Africans hacking fellow unarmed and defenseless working folks on sardine-packed trains during the busiest times of commute. In his book, Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela attributed the violence to a “Third Force.”
Then criminals besieged the predominantly European suburbs, comprising approximately nine percent of the South African population. The onslaught of the sheer high numbers of violent crimes was, and still is, merciless and often marked by hours of torture.
In the spate of a few months in 1994, I lost two 18 year old friends to cold blooded murder while being car jacked. My father, relatives and friends were attacked and injured or even killed. Each and every single neighbor was mugged or carjacked or shot outside their homes, often with AK47s. The onslaught was so severe and relentless that I literally felt like I was living in a war and was afraid. All the time.
In a country where one in three women have been raped, the big problem was the risk of prolific kidnapping and rape of female victims. Around 5 percent of the South African population owned firearms and just like in the U.S., fully automatic weapons were banned. In 1999, within days of turning 21, I applied for a handgun license to buy a pistol for personal protection.
To obtain my firearm license, I underwent a background and fingerprint check that took a few months. The conditions of ownership were focused on ensuring that I was responsible. I proved that I owned a secure safe to lock the gun away. I also was required to conceal it on my person and if my firearm was lost or stolen, I faced heavy penalties — including incarceration.
If anything, owning a gun minimized my personal fear of guns enabling me to react appropriately when I was shot in an incident. I have since survived four attempted car jackings, an attempted kidnapping and two attempted home invasions. And I have saved a life.
In 1994, newly formed Gun Free South Africa led the charge to disarm gun owners and, in 2000, the government enacted a poorly designed set of laws requiring gun owners to go through a re-licensing procedure adding a low level gun proficiency test to the current requirements. The government licensed some civilian service providers to perform the task and then issued a set of deadlines for competency testing and relicensing in 2004 through 2009. All firearms that could no longer be legally possessed had to be lawfully disposed of, or surrendered for destruction.
The initiative was a complete failure due to poor administration resulting in an enormous backlog. Less than half of the gunowners in South Africa submitted to the relicensing process and some 180,000 firearms were voluntarily surrendered to the police between January 2005 and March 2009. The firearm retail industry was all but destroyed and crime remained rampant with an alarming escalation in farm attacks and home invasions.
In 2010, the Black Gun Owners Association embarked on a multi-million dollar federal lawsuit against the government citing the loss of 10,000 jobs and closure of 800 small businesses. The association is also fighting the fact that less than 2 percent of all native African gun license applicants (91 percent of the population in South Africa is native African) obtained approval to own a gun.
Meanwhile, the proliferation of the use of R4 and R5 rifles by criminals is endemic, as are the reported cases of gangs of police being involved in heists and carjackings along with civilian assaults, civilian rapes and civilian robberies.
To this day, I know of very few cases of random school, mall or workplace shootings in South Africa and these have been connected to robbery or domestic violence. I can also tell you that the mentally ill along with the special needs students are kept separate from the mainstream, with an array of supporting institutions and programmes. It’s fairly easy and quick for a family member to have someone committed, albeit with the help of a doctor. South Africans do not see much in terms of the mentally ill and the handicapped – simply because so many well developed institutions and facilities are in place to support these people.
At the end of the day, facts speak for themselves. With prolific crime in South Africa, I did not nearly enjoy as much of a quality of life as I do now. My odds of facing violence are far lower than South Africa and for that peace of mind I am so, so grateful.
There is a cleaning guy who works at the food court in the local mall and while working, he shouts and grunts during heated, bizarre conversations with himself. I keep a close eye on him. I wonder who monitors his condition. I wonder if he remembers to take his medication. I wonder if he will one day assaulting the local granny doing her daily walk session. Hmm, maybe it is time to get myself another handgun…Any suggestions, fellow patriots?