In 2013, South Africa was one of the leading African countries to commit to the African Union’s goal of ‘silencing the guns’ by 2020. Nonetheless, this timeline which was set in 2013 to eradicate conflict across the African continent has been extended to 2030.  In an effort to bolster collective determination towards ending conflict on the continent, South Africa has adopted the African Union’s Agenda 2063 which also encompasses the adoption of a non-proliferation posture against weapons of war.

In practice, South Africa ought to also demonstrate the country’s commitment towards the realization of the goal of silencing the guns within the context of the requirements of the United Nations Programme of Action aimed at preventing, combating and eradicating illicit trade in small and light weapons. In addition, the determination on the part of the South African government, as a member of the United Nations, to the commitments aimed at ending armed conflicts should include unfettered compliance on the part of government with the obligations contained in tenets enshrined in the legally binding international Arms Trade Treaty.

The ‘Silencing the Guns in Africa’ campaign intends to put an end to the proliferation of weapons of war which have concomitant deleterious effects on human security within and across countries.

The end to the proliferation of weapons of war involves a commitment on the part of all countries to the effective implementation of a general moratorium on the acquisition, supply and use of weapons of war which, inevitably, imposes pernicious consequences to the extent to which armed conflict is propagated within and across countries. However, general evidence from the African continent regarding the ability of African countries to end the proliferation of weapons of war demonstrates an unmitigated failure.

Firstly, the extension of the timeline for silencing the guns from 2020 to 2030 is likely to have the campaign overtaken by the emergent need to reallocate resources to the Coronavirus pandemic, giving a significant slump in momentum for silencing the guns.

Secondly, while the implimentation of the African Union’s project of silencing the guns by 2020 started in 2013, it is evident that armed conflicts have been relentlessly on the increase across the African continent in countries such as Libya, the Central African Republic where continuing violence emanated from disputes over election results, the Tigray region of Ethiopia who are seeking autonomy, the Darfur region of Sudan, in the Sahel, in Somalia, in the Eastern Regions of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the Southern ‘Ambazonian’ region of Cameroon and recently in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique, to which the South African government deployed the rapid response force.

Nonetheless, these raging conflicts continue to cause untold humanitarian catastrophes which inevitably suggests Africa’s demonstrated inability to end the conflicts across the continent, thus, rendering the African Union’s commitment towards the achievement of the goal of silencing the guns by 2030 unattainable.

The alleged exportation of arms purportedly originating from South Africa into conflict areas has deleterious implications on the commitment of the South African government to end armed conflicts on the African continent and elsewhere. For example, it is alleged that South Africa’s weapons are landing up in conflict areas such as Libya, Yemen, even to Hezbollah, to criminals in South Africa, Jihadists and terrorists operating in places such Somalia and the Cabo Delgado region of Mozambique. For example, Judge Norman Davis granted in the Pretoria High Court in June 2020, an urgent order to the National Conventional Arms Control Committee to disclose suppliers of weapons of war which war torn Yemen, amongst other countries, involved in armed conflicts. It can be inferred from this High Court judgment, that South Africa’s commitment to the principles of silencing the guns is a disastrous failure.

Furthermore, the ongoing emotive discussions about South Africa’s controversial Firearms Control Amendment Bill, which was published in May 2021, has generated vicious arguments. One of the most important requirements for human survival is the right to self-defense in the quest towards the preservation of life. However, one issue of contention in the Bill is the prohibition of private individuals from acquiring a weapon’s license for purposes of self-defense.

The South African society, it is common knowledge, has a significant array of illegal arms in the hands of criminals. The prohibition by the Bill to issue licenses to civilians for self-defense purposes heightens the risk to human security and violates constitutional imperatives which provide for the right of every individual to life. The Firearms Control Amendment Bill, inevitably, imposes a security threat to human survival and incentivizes armed criminals to target unarmed civilians at choice.

While some argue that the Firearms Control Amendment Bill is not an attempt to disarm private citizens but to build a safer South Africa, the contrary is true. While the Firearms control Amendment Bill, in reality, attempts to disarm private citizens and therefore prohibit their right to self-defense to preserve life, it is, paradoxically, not clear how government intends to disarm illegal arms which are in the hands of insidious criminals. Further, the alleged exportation of weapons of war from South Africa into conflict areas on the African continent and outside the continent, has reputationally damaging consequences to the commitment of the South African government to its moral posture of ending conflicts within countries and across countries.

The ongoing discussions surrounding the Firearms Control Amendment Bill raises serious questions regarding the ability of government to protect the right to life of its citizens, and the extent to which it can successfully implement a disarmament program to confiscate illegal weapons which remain in the hands of criminals which. This will also determine the extent to which the South African government can demonstrate, in practice, its commitment to the realization of the goal of silencing of the guns.  

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Dr Peter Wandwasi

Dr Peter Wandwasi holds a PhD in Metaevaluation from University of the Witwatersrand. He is Head: UNISWEM Secretariat (United Nations Independent System-Wide Evaluation Mechanism). He is an expert in...

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  1. Take this failure, and turn it around. Instead of trying to get rid of the proliferation of guns, all African countries should work to arm every single citizen above the age of 16, especially the women. Arm them up, and let them defend themselves, and organize to defeat their oppressors.

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