by James Crowe

In South Africa, the issue of owning firearms for self-defence is becoming a national case. A new bill has provoked a strong reaction, especially among farmers, who have been increasingly at the centre of attacks and violence in recent years. A recent statement by Theo de Jager, president of the Southern African Agri Initiative (SAAI), shows how critical and difficult the situation has become. De Jager is one of the strongest and most representative personalities in South Africa today because in addition to representing local farmers he is also the President of the World Farmers Organisation, the most important global body in the agricultural sector. Not only this: de Jager is also one of the emerging personalities of the new local ruling class, in short one of the potential new political leaders of South Africa. That is why his words, especially on such a divisive issue, are of great importance.

We will oppose the proposal with everything we have,” said de Jager peremptorily. “It is a fact that most of the firearms that are lost in South Africa come from members of the South African Police Service (SAPS). The proposed ban by the SAPS is simply illogical.

In short, de Jager’s rejection leaves no room for doubt as to where South African farmers stand on this sensitive issue. But what is behind this new bill that is further dividing a country already torn apart by the economic crisis and Covid?

The underlying theme is self-defence. Farmers want to have the right to protect themselves and their property, even using firearms, from the constant attacks they are subjected to. Violent attacks, often motivated by hunger and poverty, are making life very difficult for the many farmers scattered across the country. On the contrary, the reform presented by the Police Service (PSC) proposes strong limitations on the possession and use of firearms. The proposal states, among other things, that ‘no firearms licence may be issued for the purposes of self-defence’.

The issue is now highly topical, and even urgent, because there is time until 8 July to amend or repeal this bill. This is why tempers are flaring and the big players are taking to the field.

Christo van der Rheede, the executive director of Agri SA, described the proposal as ‘bizarre’. In an interview with the Farmer’s Weekly, he explained that this initiative, described as ‘an absurd idea’, does not serve the interest of law-abiding South African citizens, but plays into the hands of all those people who illegally possess firearms.

This is indeed one of the hottest topics. The widespread use of illegal firearms makes farmers furious because, if the law were to pass, they would have to defend themselves without weapons, while those who attack them are always well armed. This is an unacceptable difference in treatment, and one that is causing a stir.

We will see in the coming weeks how it will end. We will see if a mediation will be reached or if the Government will adopt a solution that will further divide a nation that has always been the victim of internal lacerations.