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Friday, March 5, 1999 Published at 18:08 GMT

World: Africa

Silencing South Africa's gun culture

By Africa Correspondent Jane Standley

At least 30 people are shot dead in South Africa every day and there are more than four million registered firearms in the country and millions more illegal guns.

These grim statistics have forced the government to try to tighten the laws on gun control. But with some of the highest levels of violent crime in the world, the government has been accused of doing too little, too late.

[ image: Gelusksdal school is now a gun-free zone]
Gelusksdal school is now a gun-free zone
But some campaigners who want a gun-free society have begun their own initiative to combat South Africa's dependence on guns.

Teacher Mike Moses began his own crusade against guns when his pupils began bringing them into the classroom. At 16 all the students can legally own firearms.

Now he has support from the small campaigning group Gun Free South Africa, and Gelusksdal Secondary School is a gun-free zone.

Jane Standley reports on the efforts in Gelusksdal to combat gun-culture
Charlene Badnes is one pupil who has direct experience of what damage guns can do. "My father was killed," she says. "I hate guns."

Her father intervened in a drunken domestic dispute between her aunt and uncle. They died too. Other traumatised pupils tell tales of gun violence - making Mike Moses more determined to win support for a firearms free society.

[ image: 'The Place' is much safer now guns have been banned]
'The Place' is much safer now guns have been banned
"Living free from fear is one of the basic tenets of freedom. We live with a lot of fear and that is why people should get involved. Guns are not the solution," he said.

Mike has now taken his campaign into the township's shebeens - the open-all-day drinking houses. He has had some success.

Since the owner of The Place - a whitewashed single room building, with plastic chairs and mirror tiles - banned guns, firearms incidents there have drastically dropped.

In Geluksdal township, the community campaign has succeeded in banning guns from the churches. The clinics and libraries though are still thinking it over. With high levels of crime and violence in South Africa it is difficult to separate people from the guns they believe will protect them.

[ image: The attitude is that of frontiersman]
The attitude is that of frontiersman
But Dr Bernie Fanaroff from the Safety and Security Ministry - who is drawing up the government's new gun legislation - says the law will be severely tightened.

"We cannot allow the huge number of guns, in excess of four million licensed weapons, plus others, to continue in our society. We're very serious and we will take action."

At one of Johannesburg's regular gun shows, an astonishing array of weapons is up for demonstration - parents nonchantlantly wheel their children's pushchairs between the stalls. Legal guns are easy to obtain from here - and from dealers and shops. Illegal ones are even easier.

[ image: Jane Standley:
Jane Standley: "A violent society is finding it hard to change"
Antony Altbeker of the University of the Witswatersrand studies attitudes to gun ownership and believes it is more than crime that motivates people.

"On one side you have got the attitiude of a frontiersman - going out there and taming a wild environment. And on the other side you've got a worried mentality - wanting to protect yourself. "

South Africa's sociologists have other explanations - a refusal to accept authority, a lack of belief in the state, the traumatic legacy of apartheid.

The latest research shows you are four times more likley to be hurt if you use a gun to try to defend yourself against crime.

The truth seems to be that the legacy of a violent past is proving hard to overcome.

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