Sunday Times 16/3/2003
Minister and police chief at odds over school shooting
POLICE Commissioner Jackie Selebi's plan to confiscate old
army rifles from schools will destroy the sport of target
shooting, warns one of South Africa's top young shots.
"He will destroy a good sport if he revokes the guns and will
cause an imbalance in many young people's lives," said Junior
Springbok shooter Sydney Msimanga, a Grade 9 pupil at
Middelburg High in Mpumalanga.
Selebi said this week he would not allow guns at schools -
bringing him into conflict with Education Minister Kader Asmal,
who proposes to make the sport more inclusive by introducing it
to disadvantaged schools.
Director-General of Education Thami Mseleku said: "What we
wanted to do was ensure that all children were given the
opportunity to participate if they so desired, It must be made
clear that we are not supplying schools with an extra stock of
"More than 200 schools in the country were given .22 rifles by
the old South African Defence Force during the apartheid era.
The issue was whether the new South African National Defence
Force takes back the guns or leave them at the schools."
The Education Department could not approve of a sport which was
"exclusive to white schools", he said.
Selebi's spokesman, Senior Superintendent Selby Bokaba, said
they planned to remove guns from affected schools and destroy
them before Asmal's proposal was put on the table.
"One of our priorities is to curb the proliferation of guns in
The SAPS wants to create gun-free zones at schools," he said.
"This is not a slinging match between departments, it's just
that we are an important stake-holder and were not consulted on
the proposal," Bokaba said.
While the sport may not result in the killing of police
officers, it may lead to an escalation of violence at schools
involving the use of firearms, he warned.
"There have been incidences at schools in which children brought
guns to schools and killed or injured their fellow pupils."
The outcry has prompted Asmal and senior education officials to
arrange a meeting with Selebi and Safety and Security Minister
Charles Nqakula in Pretoria tomorrow to discuss the proposal.
Nqakula's spokesman, Les Xinwa, said the minister reserved
comment on the issue until after the meeting.
Asmal's special adviser, Allan Taylor, said the sport had
existed at about 266 historically white schools for many years.
"The ministry is adamant that if it is to continue being
recognised as a school sport, it must conform to the applicable
sporting codes of conduct and the principles of non-racialism."
Taylor stressed that all target-shooting rifles being used at
schools were properly stored and "that no unauthorised use has
been reported nor have any injuries resulted, as has occurred
with other sports like rugby".
Instead, Msimanga argued, target shooting was beneficial and
had empowered him with self-confidence.
"Some young shooters, like myself, have dreams of eventually
making it to the Olympics, perhaps even making a career out of
target shooting," he said.
"I love it. I can't imagine life without it and many other young
shooters share my feelings.
"Contrary to many people's perception, target shooting is an
extremely safe sport and the discipline is excellent.
"Although you do shoot a target, it's not a violent sport."
Jaco Henn, a target shooter who represented South Africa in the
last Olympic Games, has also thrown his weight behind Asmal's
"It will teach children to respect a weapon and use it
responsibly," he said.
"The advantages of teaching the sport far outweigh the
disadvantages." Sakkie Boschoff, shooting coach at Standerton
High School in Mpumalanga, said "it would be a great pity if
guns were confiscated just when the sport was being slowly
A great emphasis is put on safety, said Leon du Preez, chairman
of the Mpumalanga Shooting Club. "If the shooters don't comply
with the rules, they can be banned for life. We are shooting
dots here, not people. We have just started teaching
disadvantaged children the art of shooting and they are loving
"There has only been one incident that I know of, which occurred
about 10 years ago, when a youngster forgot to put the safety
catch on a gun and it went off, striking a girl in the leg.
"The girl died a few hours later due to loss of blood."
Maggie Keegan, national advocacy manager of Gun Free South
Africa, said the anti-gun lobby was opposed to the introduction
of target shooting at all public schools and not only