Children bear brunt of gun injuries

Three children – aged five, 11 and 12 – were shot and killed in a barbershop in Site C, Khayelitsha. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

Three children – aged five, 11 and 12 – were shot and killed in a barbershop in Site C, Khayelitsha. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/Independent Newspapers

Published Jun 27, 2024


Illegal firearm and ammunition confiscations should place the focus on combating the alarming numbers of children falling victim to firearm-related injuries and deaths.

The Health Department recently disclosed, in a child homicide report, that 333 children were attended to at public health facilities for firearm-related injuries while 58 children died due to firearms in the first six months of this year.

The report noted that at the current rate, the number of firearm-related homicides in 2024 in children could exceed 100 by year-end.

Stellenbosch University criminologist, Dr Guy Lamb said the data presented by the provincial Health Department demonstrated trends seen over a number of decades in South Africa.

“It is typically children 15 years and older that tend to make up the most fatalities and injuries from firearms and in this particular category, these are teenagers caught up in the gang violence and gang conflicts so often they are witnessing it or they are being targeted by gangs.

“Often in the case of gang violence and conflicts, you find that adolescents are targeted either as being seen or associated with rival gangs or are perceived to be gangsters and hence are being targeted by rivals. Sometimes it is mistaken identity but it’s typically teenagers or adolescents who are being targeted with firearms.

“In the case of children under the age of 14 ... they can be caught in crossfire but there are sometimes accidental shootings where there is a firearm in the home and the child gets hold of it,” said Lamb.

Three children – aged five, 11 and 12 – were shot and killed in a barbershop in Site C, Khayelitsha earlier this month. In the same incident, a 30-year-old man was also shot and killed. Police confirmed two men were arrested in connection with the crimes and have already appeared in court for the murders.

In April, 16-year-old Belgravia High pupil, Zamawushe Moroti was caught in gang crossfire in the Athlone area where rival shootings plagued the community. Zamawushe was one of two victims shot and killed when she was waiting for her school transport outside the school gates.

Lamb said the issue of access to firearms and ammunition exacerbated the problem in the province.

“What we have a problem within the Western Cape is the access to ammunition (where) gangs and different criminal groups have access to large quantities of ammunition which tends to exacerbate the problem.”

To address this, policing operations were needed to confiscate as many illegal firearms and ammunition as possible, he said.

“But it’s also about the longer term, looking at ways and means to prevent legal firearms being lost and stolen from licensed firearm owners, police and private security companies,” said Lamb.

On the report, provincial Department of Health and Wellness spokesperson Byron la Hoe said: “While we do not yet have the full picture for 2024 to compare to previous years, we can compare child homicides due to a firearm from 2022 to 2023.

“There were 83 child homicides in 2022 from firearms in the Western Cape – six children under the age of 10 years – and in 2023 this number rose to 89 deaths due to firearms - 10 children were under the age of 10.

“Gunshot wounds result in significant morbidity and mortality for the affected patients and families, resulting in significant (preventable) cost to the health system.The biggest challenge that we have as society is to prevent these from occurring. This requires intersectoral collaboration, ensuring communities are safe for children, strengthening firearm legislation and the implementation of this legislation,” said La Hoe.

SAPS spokesperson Malcolm Pojie confirmed a number of firearm and illegal ammunition confiscations and arrests of suspects found in possession of the items. In separate operations since Saturday, six firearms – two of which were found during a search at the funeral of a gang member – and 26 rounds of ammunition were confiscated by SAPS.

Pojie said: “Members attached to the National Public Order Police (POP) based in Cape Town are making inroads in the fight against the proliferation of illegal firearms which pose a threat to the safety of the inhabitants of this province.

“(In Strand) POP were deployed to police a funeral of a known gangster who was shot and killed a week ago.

“During the event members conducted random searches and confiscated two firearms which resulted in the arrests of two adult males,” said Pojie.

Condemning the child injuries and fatalities, Action Society’s Kaylynn Palm said gang violence “has many parts of the Western Cape in a vice grip”, with Manenberg, Hanover Park, Mitchells Plain, Khayelitsha and Nyanga identified as hotspots for gang-related activities.

“The numbers reveal a terrible and tragic reality. We can’t have a future in South Africa if our children aren’t safe to go to school or to get a haircut. It is our duty to foster an environment for children where they can live their lives peacefully, free of the fear of a stray bullet ending their lives or being a helpless and innocent victim of a senseless mass shooting,” said Palm.

Child safety and anti-GBV NGO Ilitha Labantu called for the rights of children’s safety and security to be protected.

Spokesperson Siyabulela Monakale said: “It is particularly distressing that children are often at the forefront of this violence ... We urge the government to prioritise bolstering crime-fighting measures in communities with high rates of crime and violence. Members of these communities cannot be expected to lead progressive lives in a state of constant violence.”

Cape Times