Revised weapons bill welcomed

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Dianne Kohler Barnard

Parliament, Cape Town - New draft legislation will help curb the brandishing of dangerous weapons during protests, Democratic Alliance MP Dianne Kohler Barnard said on Tuesday.

Kohler Barnard was speaking after the draft Dangerous Weapons Bill came before Parliament's portfolio committee on police.

A new draft of the bill follows an outcry when the bill was first published in December 2011.

It was feared the proposed law would prevent people from using self-defence mechanisms, such as pepper spray, as well as dangerous objects used for traditional, religious, and recreational purposes.

“As the bill now stands, a dangerous weapon is an object, other than a firearm, designed as a weapon and capable of producing death or serious bodily harm,” said Kohler Barnard.

She said the bill would prevent people from carrying dangerous weapons or objects which could be used to injure someone or damage property during public gatherings.

“After the violent protests of the last year this is a very welcome move.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa told the committee the bill would outlaw the possession of any weapon, object, or replica in instances where there was an intention to use it for an unlawful purpose.

In terms of the bill, objects, such as bricks and glass bottles, would be considered to be weapons, as they could injure people or cause damage to property.

Mthethwa would be given the power to regulate what dangerous weapons could or could not be carried in public.

“This is particularly important given the developments in the country, and the apparent brandishing of weapons in public protests and public gatherings, as it were,” Mthethwa told MPs.

The use of toy guns to commit a crime was also covered under the proposed law.

“The rationale for this is that replica firearms often look exactly like real firearms and can be used in the commission of a crime,” said Mthethwa.

Religious and cultural gatherings would, however, be exempt.

“The bill also provides for the minister of police to issue notices of exclusion, where the carrying of what may be defined as dangerous weapons in public is excluded from being outlawed under specific circumstances.”

Mthethwa and Police Secretary Jenni Irish-Qhobosheane denied the legislation was aimed at leaving people defenceless against criminals.

“What the new bill seeks to do is not to prevent people from carrying items like pepper spray, as reported in the media, but rather an attempt to harmonise our approach to dangerous weapons into a single piece of legislation and to base this on best international practice,” Mthethwa said.

A Dangerous Weapons Act already exists, but does not apply to the former apartheid-era “homelands”, which had their own sets of legislation.

The bill will repeal the different Acts and put in place one law governing the carrying of dangerous weapons.

Freedom Front Plus MP Pieter Groenewald was sceptical, insisting police would misuse the bill to arrest people.

“If people abuse the law they have to face justice, including police,” Mthethwa said.

Inkatha Freedom Party MP Velaphi Ndlovu wanted to know exactly what would be excluded as a dangerous weapon.

“You ladies wearing heels that are three inches high, is that an exception?” he asked.

“Three-inch heels are only dangerous to our own health,” committee chairwoman Annelize van Wyk replied. - Sapa


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