South Africa’s deadly love affair with guns


For the last six years Penson Mlotshwa has been carrying a gun with him wherever he goes in the South African city of Johannesburg. To the shops, restaurants and even the gym.

His gun has become an extension of him as the country battles record levels of crime.

“I’m not a fortune teller – I never know when I will be attacked,” the YouTube content creator told the BBC.

“Unfortunately, I’ve had to use my gun multiple times to protect myself,” he sighs, explaining how a man wanting his wallet pulled a knife on him after dinner one night.

He drew his gun and made the mugger hand over the pocket knife, which he threw in the gutter. He did not fire the weapon.

Mr Mlotshwa says his guns – he would not disclose how many he owned – are strictly for protection, a job he feels the police and government have failed dismally at.

Johannesburg resident Lynette Oxley agrees and says such dangers must be faced head on.

She has set up an initiative to train women to protect themselves through gun ownership.

“I’d rather buy a new gun, than a pair of shoes,” the 57-year-old Johannesburg resident, who owns 12 firearms, told the BBC.

Her organisation, Girls on Fire, mostly helps women who have been raped, attacked, robbed, or experienced some level of violence. The country’s rate of sexual violence is among the highest in the world.


One woman joined up after her husband was shot in front of her – she was pregnant at the time – and her six-year-old child during a home robbery.

“People are realising that we are on our own,” says Ms Oxley, a gun instructor.

“Gun culture in South Africa is about self-defence and necessity.”

South African law states that most people with a gun licence can carry a firearm if it is concealed.

There are more than 2.7 million legal gun owners in South Africa, according to a 2021 survey by Gun Free South Africa (GFSA) – roughly 8% of the adult population.

When it comes to the war against crime, South Africa’s police do appear to be losing. The murder rate in the country reached a 20-year high and guns are the weapon of choice.

Adele Kirsten, the director of GFSA, told the BBC of her concerns that crime was not only increasing in South Africa, but the “nature of gun violence” was changing.

Mass shootings and assassinations are becoming a “feature” of South Africa, she says.

Last year the country was rocked when 10 members of the same family were shot dead in an attack on their home near the city of Pietermaritzburg. The youngest victim was only 13 years old.