By Nathi Olifant

This week, national police commissioner, Bheki Cele reiterated that knives have overtaken guns as the favoured weapon of criminals since police stepped up operations to recover stolen and illegal firearms.

"Okapis are now more popular than firearms because we have squeezed the space for the use of firearms," he said during the destruction of 10 000 firearms on Monday.

A manager at a city shop that sells, among other things, utility knives, military knives, sharp blades, bows and pepper sprays concurred with Cele's sentiments this week.

He told the Sunday Tribune that an Okapi knife, which is modelled on the American kudu knife, is a popular buy.

The Okapi, a flick knife with a wooden handle, retails at about R35 and he says criminals favour it because of its simplicity. It is both well-priced and easy to obtain.

"You must understand that many people come here to buy knives for various reasons. Many of them are collectors and many buy it for self-defence. The police tell me 80 percent of stabbings are inflicted by an Okapi. You will be surprised to know that Okapis and knives in general are bought by both men and women," he said.

The shop owner said he thought criminals are also using knives since it was difficult to track down the weapon, unlike a firearm which can be ballistically traced.

Early in 2008, then Minister of Safety and Security, Charles Nqakula made several proposals regarding the Dangerous Weapons Act Review. Nqakula gazetted that knives should be classified as dangerous weapons.

Objects like flick knives, daggers, knuckle knives, trench knives, swords, bayonets, spears or assegais and pangas, just to name a few, were viewed by Nqakula as dangerous weapons whose handling should be strictly controlled.

Nqakula had also announced an extensive list of personal defence items that could be banned under the new legislation. These items include weapons such as BB guns, darts, catapults, and slingshots. He added that any item that could be used to injure or disable a person or that could cause a person to fear that someone will be injured by that weapon, should also be banned.

Police Superintendent Jay Naicker said that a weapon like a knife should not exceed 10cm for it to be considered legal.

A knife is among several weapons that are often confiscated by the police everyday. One police officer said carrying a knife is tantamount to being armed. It is dangerous and police do not hesitate to seize it.

"Neglecting the rampant usage of knives could be a knife in the back of police themselves," he said.

An Okapi owner told the Sunday Tribune that he used these kind of knives since he was a teenager. He said while the knife was popular with school boys who are still learning the trade of stabbing, it was in fact a skill to handle it.

"It protects me, once I brandish it, everyone reverses, it open doors for me. I no longer use it, but I have stabbed troublemakers before. Because the Okapi is light and you can carry it in the pocket, it is a favourite knife," he said.

Obviously a tsotsi (thug) in the trade, this Okapi user went as far as explaining that since there is no time to use your hands in certain situation, you can flick the knife open using the heel of an All Star takkie.

In terms of the Dangerous Weapons Act of 1968, any person found in possession of a dangerous weapon or any object that resembles a firearm is guilty of an offence and on conviction can be fined, or jailed for up to two years, or both.

The Act embraces any personal voluntary conduct. For example, when a person is in possession of a knife, such person has control over the knife. This control must be voluntary. The expression "the intention to possess" is frequently used to suggest the voluntariness of the conduct.

An official SAPS journal reported in June last year that knives are the weapon of choice in the Northern Cape during the commission of violent crimes such as rape, murder, attempted murder, assault, domestic violence and armed robberies.

The provincial police of Northern Cape had launched a Knife Free campaign that aimed at ridding the community of dangerous weapons such as pangas, knives and homemade efforts.

The campaign was launched in Galeshewe in February this year.