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Guns and Covid: vital to connect the right dots

As of June 13, just over 50% of South Africa’s adult population of around 40 million people had received at least one vaccine dose. In recent months, the vaccination campaign has slowed, despite efforts to boost take-up, says the writer.

As of June 13, just over 50% of South Africa’s adult population of around 40 million people had received at least one vaccine dose. In recent months, the vaccination campaign has slowed, despite efforts to boost take-up, says the writer.

Published Jun 21, 2022

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Nkosikhulule Nyembezi

Cape Town - As South Africans watched yet another series of deadly school shootings unfold in the Cape Flats, Rustenburg, Gqeberha, Newlands West and elsewhere in the country, we were again left to reflect on what to point the finger at for a seemingly unstoppable problem.

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At the same time, President Cyril Ramaphosa welcomed the World Bank’s approval of a loan of about R7.6 billion to help South Africa fund Covid-19 vaccine purchases as he braced the country for a possible winter surge of cases, leaving us all pondering what we could do to put an end to this horrible pandemic.

It seems that we, as a nation, are uniquely hopeless at attending to things that end in “-emic,” be it a pandemic or an epidemic of gun violence.

As of June 13, just over 50% of South Africa’s adult population of around 40 million people had received at least one vaccine dose. In recent months, the vaccination campaign has slowed, despite efforts to boost take-up.

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According to reports, police removed 26 002 firearms from circulation during the 2019/2020 and 2020/2021 Firearms Amnesty periods. That is negligible, considering the proliferation of illegal guns in the hands of private citizens.

It is understandable. Restraining those two problems, given all we have at the tip of our tongues, is complicated — like looking at two dots on a page and trying to figure out how to connect them.

Can a straight line do the trick? Some people want you to believe, in response to what they herald as a significant victory on the legal front following the May 27 Constitutional Court decision, that more than 30 000 gun owners could renew their licences under the Firearms Control Act.

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But what if drawing a straight line infringes on our inalienable right to connect two points with our preferred type of line.

I read something that said crooked lines are the only patriotic way to connect the dots, and I would be irresponsible to let the government force me to use a straight line, which is a human rights violation.

Suppose I say, as a South African, I am not interested in connecting the dots. I have the freedom to disregard the unconnected dots.

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Unfortunately, not when pressure is mounting on the Department of Education to review its gun policy at schools following the shooting of teachers at several schools across the country.

On June 7, gun-wielding assailants shot and seriously wounded Inga Hopewell Nzoboyi, 24, a student-teacher at Riverdene Secondary School in Newlands West, north of Durban.

In the same week, another pair of gun-wielding assailants shot dead a 45-year-old teacher in her car in front of the Rutanang Primary School in Rustenburg in the North West.

Educators Union of SA general secretary Siphiwe Mpungose said the union was no longer prepared to bury teachers killed at schools (guns) while keeping their firearms in their home safe.

“We are calling on all teachers with guns to bring them to schools to defend themselves from criminals, and the union will come to their defence if the department charges them. Those who do not have guns must go and apply for licences and buy guns,” said Mpungose.

The National Teachers Union president Sibusiso Malinga and the National Professional Teachers Organisation of SA Thirona Moodley agree.

I detect a consistent theme in South Africa’s seemingly endless stream of deadly shootings, be they at schools across the country or on the streets of our neighbourhoods — citizens use a device called “a gun” to pump bullets into people in a manner that takes away the lives of those people.

Suppose the removal of guns leads to fewer shootings. Bullets, after all, are far less deadly when thrown by hand. But that reckless theorem — fewer guns equals fewer people shot by guns — is probably rubbish, akin to the absurd suggestion that a straight line can connect two points.

If someone kept aiming at me with an axe, taking that axe away would not solve the problem. The correct South African answer would be for me to get an axe and make sure everyone around me is axe-equipped, so we can stop malicious axe-wielders with our good-guy axes.

That is how you patriotically connect two dots with a crooked line, as the Constitution’s drafters intended in section 25, protecting ownership of private property.

It is like the Covid-19 pandemic. I remember Ramaphosa gave a speech in one of his “family meeting” televised addresses to the nation imploring all South Africans to get vaccinated and, if eligible, get their booster shots.

He asked people to wear masks and make intelligent choices over public and school holidays to slow the virus’s spread, particularly with the arrival of a new variant.

Would vaccinations and masks be a simple and effective solution to a problem that has cost hundreds of thousands of South Africans their lives? Sure.

Just like a straight line would be the shortest distance between two points. But that overlooks the myriad South Africans who don’t want to connect the dots as a “Thuma Mina” president advises.

There is no easy way to get control of the virus, so we need to live our lives free (and sick and maybe dead) and let nature take its course (which it will, mercilessly).

Returning to gun violence and the killing of teachers, the situation has got out of hand.

Just because we see one dot on a piece of paper and another 3cm away, there is no reason to think we should connect them. For heaven’s sake, I argue that dot connection is a uniquely liberal creation. If we start connecting dots, we could evolve into a country we aspire to build, mainly because so few people would be getting shot and killed or dying from a preventable disease.

Let us stop obsessing over whether there is one device central to all shootings. Let us not pretend there is an easy way to stop the spread of Covid-19 and save lives.

When it comes to the gun violence epidemic or the coronavirus pandemic — or any kind of -emic — South Africans must stare at two dots that we can easily connect through collaborative efforts to make our country safe.

Fewer guns, fewer gun deaths. More vaccinations, fewer Covid-19 deaths. But that does not mean we are willing to draw that straight line, which will be the easy path. And easy paths, like connected dots, seem to be decidedly un-South African.

Nyembezi is a policy analyst and human rights activist

Cape Times

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