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Murder, VIPs and theft: Fact-checking five claims by Gun Owners South Africa

A proposal to amend South Africa’s gun laws could remove self-defence as a valid reason to own a firearm. Gun Owners South Africa made a number of claims on radio to explain their opposition to the bill.

  • Gosa is correct that South Africa is one of the “most homicidal” countries in the world, and the organisation understated the cuts to the police ministry’s visible policing budget. 

  • The organisation admitted they’d made a mistake about the increase in the police budget for VIP protection services in 2021/22 – it was by R26 million, not R1.7 billion.

  • However, no available data shows that firearms are stolen at ten times the rate from police as from civilians or what percentage of gun owners in the country are black Africans.

Proposed changes to the primary law that governs who can own guns in South Africa and how they are used has set off spirited debate, drawing in political parties and gun control lobbies, among others. 

One proposal to amend the Firearms Control Act seeks to remove self-defence as a valid reason for possessing a firearm.

The bill was published for comment on 21 May 2021. Four days later, the police ministry said the public had sent in more than 17,000 written submissions.

Gun Owners South Africa (Gosa), a South African firearms rights organisation, is one group opposing the proposed amendments. 

Speaking on Johannesburg-based Radio 702, Gosa chair Paul Oxley argued that the proposed amendment on self-defence infringed on the constitutional right to life

He made a number of claims about the police budget, murder levels and the loss of firearms by the police and civilians. This report fact-checks five of his claims.

Claim

The police minister cut the budget for “you and me” by R3 billion.

Verdict

Understated

Gosa told Africa Check that the claim referred to the visible policing budget. The purpose of this programme is to “enable police stations to institute and preserve safety and security and provide for specialised interventions”.

The annual police budget vote speech for 2021/22 was presented to parliament by police minister Bheki Cele on 20 May 2021. He announced an overall reduction in the budget from R99.6 billion in 2020/21 to R97.1 billion in 2023/24.

Gareth Newham, head of the Institute for Security Studies’ justice and violence prevention programme in Pretoria, told Africa Check the budget cuts would result in fewer police officers. 

“In total, the police’s personnel count will drop by 10% or 18,350 personnel, from 181,344 in 2020/21 to 162,994 in 2023/24,” he said.   

According to budget documents, the visible policing budget has been decreased from R53.4 billion in 2020/21 to R49.5 billion in 2021/22. This is a reduction of R3.9 billion. Gosa therefore understated the budget cuts by R900 million.

The majority of the reduction (R3.9 billion) came from the crime prevention sub programme, which “provides for basic crime prevention and visible policing services at police stations and community service centres”. 

Newham said the budget cuts would impact staffing here too: “There will be fewer police officers at station level as this is where most visible policing officials are based.”

The border security sub programme was reduced by R1 million and the specialised interventions sub programme by R22 million. The facilities sub programme, which provides for “office accommodation budgets and related expenditure”, was increased by R35.2 million.

Claim

The VIP protection budget increased by R1.7 billion.

Verdict

Incorrect

The police budget is separated across five programmes: administration, visible policing, detective services, crime intelligence, and protection and security services.

The VIP protection services budget falls under the protection and security services programme. It provides protection to the president, deputy president, former presidents, their spouses, and other identified dignitaries while they are travelling.

VIP budget increased by R26 million, not R1.7 billion

Oxley claimed that the VIP protection services budget was increased “by R1.7 billion”. But Gosa told Africa Check the claim was incorrect: “Unfortunately, the word ‘by’ was erroneously used regarding the increase.”

The budget was increased by R26 million, from R1.68 billion in 2020/21 to R1.71 billion in 2021/22. 

The police’s ministerial spokesperson Lirandzu Themba told Africa Check that the 2020/21 VIP protection budget of R1.8 billion was adjusted mid-year to R1.68 billion because of Covid-19 restricting movement and travel in 2020.

She said the 2021/22 police budget took into account that travel restrictions might be lifted.

Claim

South Africa is one of the most homicidal countries in the world.

Verdict

Correct

Homicide is defined in the same way as murder in South Africa and means the unlawful and intentional killing of a person. 

The latest crime statistics show that 21,325 people were murdered from April 2019 to March 2020. 

However, in order to meaningfully compare levels of murder between countries it is necessary to compare the murder rate. This takes into account a country's population size and reflects the number of murders committed per 100,000 people. 

The latest data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that South Africa’s murder rate was 35.8 per 100,000 people in 2019. This meant the country ranked 10th out of 183 countries. 

The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) ranked South Africa fifth out of 93 countries in 2018, with a murder rate of 36.4. 

El Salvador, a country in Central America, was ranked first by both the WHO and the UNODC.

Data on global ratings incomplete

“South Africa has one of the highest murder rates in the world, among countries that keep good records,” Dr Andrew Faull, senior researcher in the justice and violence prevention programme at the Institute for Security Studies, told Africa Check. 

But he added: “Some countries don’t have the capacity to measure crime, including murder accurately. So this must be taken into account.”   

Dr Guy Lamb, a lecturer in the department of political science at Stellenbosch University, agreed.

“Data is not published by countries in a state of active war and accurate murder data for most other African countries is non-existent."

Claim

Firearms are stolen from police at ten times the rate at which they are stolen from civilians.

Verdict

Unproven

When asked for evidence to support this claim, Oxley told Africa Check it was “based on SAPS [South African Police Service] own statistics and presentations to parliament”. 

Gosa later sent Africa Check a link to an article on Paratus, a website that reports on gun ownership in South Africa. It included a calculation of the rate of firearm loss and theft for the police and civilians. 

We emailed them questions regarding the data they used but did not receive a response. 

Africa Check consulted the police’s annual reports and information released in parliament to verify the claim. 

Police lost 785 firearms in 2017/18

Police spokesperson Vish Naidoo told Africa Check that all employees hired under the police service act, who have undergone firearm training, carry a firearm. 

The latest publicly available data for both the police and civilians is from 2017/18.

According to a police annual report, there were 150,791 police service act employees in 2017/18. Data released in parliament shows 785 firearms were stolen or lost by police in this period. 

Based on this data the rate of theft and loss of firearms from the police is 521 per 100,000 people. (Note: We have included the most recent rate in the table below.)

Year 

Police service act employees

Firearms lost/stolen

Rate of loss per 100,000 people

2017/18

150,791

785

521

2019/20

147,035

673

458

Civilians lost 7,836 firearms in 2017/18

Faull advised using the number of individual registered firearm owners to work out the rate of loss and theft of firearms from civilians. 

The latest available population figure for individual civilian firearm owners was 1,661,158 in 2017/18. We asked SAPS for a more recent figure but have not received a response.

In 2017/18, 7,836 firearms were stolen or lost by civilians. (Note: Losses from both official institutions and non-official institutions are included in this figure. A loss and theft figure for only individual firearm owners is not publicly available.)

Based on these figures, 472 firearms per 100,000 gun owners were lost or stolen in 2017/18. 

Year 

Individual gun owners

Firearms lost/stolen

Rate of loss per 100,000 people

2017/18

1,661,158

7,836

472

2019/20

Not supplied by police

8,007

Unknown 

Concern about reliability of SAPS figures

However, concerns have been raised about the reliability of these statistics – particularly relating to the police’s figures.

Gosa told us they believe the recent figures of theft and loss of police firearms are “grossly understated”. They said this was because of the police’s firearm permit system being offline

In their report on the 2021/22 police budget, the parliamentary portfolio committee on police raised concerns that the permit system was not operational and that the monitoring of theft or loss of firearms might not be reliable. 

The available evidence does not support the claim that firearms are lost or stolen from police at ten times the rate as from civilians. However, because of concerns about the reliability of the statistics and the lack of data for individual gun owners only, we rate this claim unproven.

Claim

More than 60% of South African gun owners are black Africans.

Verdict

Unproven

Gosa told Africa Check that this information came from research conducted by Dr Richard Wesson. He is a natural scientist registered with the Southern African Council for Natural Scientific Professions. 

Wesson told Africa Check that the figure was a “guesstimate” from a research draft that is yet to be published. He said it was currently being reviewed. 

SAPS gun ownership data not categorised by race

Africa Check was not able to find any public data to support this claim. Faull and Lamb advised contacting the police. However, police ministry spokesperson Themba told Africa Check that gun ownership data is “not categorised according to race”. 

Freedom Front Plus parliamentary leader, Dr Pieter Groenewald, confirmed this to Africa Check: “I don’t know the source of this information. I have previously asked the question to the minister and his answer was that they don’t classify applications on the basis of race.” 

With no evidence to support this statistic, we rate it unproven.

 

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