A draft bill which seeks to empower police officers to arrest people carrying dangerous weapons during public gatherings came before Parliament on Tuesday.
Addressing the portfolio committee on police, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the Dangerous Weapons Bill would outlaw possession of any weapon, object, or replica in instances where there was an intention to use it for an unlawful purpose.
“The bill seeks to prohibit the carrying of firearms and objects which resemble firearms, dangerous weapons, and objects likely to cause injury or damage to property at a demonstration or gathering,” said Mthethwa.
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.