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S. Africa fights guns in schools

By Nick Easen
CNN

Last year the police destroyed close to 23,000 firearms  in South Africa
Last year the police destroyed close to 23,000 firearms in South Africa

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(CNN) -- Paul Makhohlola died after being shot in the head by a fellow pupil in Pretoria. The 14-year-old was the latest victim in a frightening trend of gun violence in South Africa's schools.

About 30 people die each day in gun-related incidents across South Africa and people aged 15-24 are most at risk, according to pressure group Gun Free South Africa (GFSA).

Now the release in South Africa of the movie "Bowling for Columbine," filmmaker Michael Moore's documentary on American gun culture, is being used to launch a campaign to make schools safer.

"Gun violence in schools is not unique to the U.S., it is on the rise here as well," the GFSA's Margy Keegan told CNN.

"We live in very violent times here in South Africa, it stops education dead and we are now deeply concerned."

School shootings often happen in poor, high unemployment areas with stolen guns obtained from government or private institutions.

The campaign -- Gun Free South Africa -- includes issuing pamphlets in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban during the first week of June.

It wants the government to declare schools firearm free zones and believes "Bowling for Columbine" raises key questions that need to be discussed in South Africa.

Advocates say shootings have implications beyond injury and death, and can bring education to a standstill in communities.

Prison threat

Police are currently working with the GFSA to set up firearm free zones at 25 schools in a number of townships including Khayelitsha, kwaMashu and Motherwell.

"It can't be just a sign on the school fence," said Keegan.

"All the role-players in the school community need to be actively involved -- pupils, teachers, governors and those who use the school from the outside."

By declaring schools firearm free zones, the GFSA believes pupils will think twice about bringing guns into the classroom.

Under the Firearms Control Bill 2000, anyone entering a school with a gun would be jailed for up to 25 years. But so far it has not been tested in the courts.

The Bill, which is gradually being phased in over five years, seeks to limit the number of firearms people may have. It will also compel gun owners to get competency certificates and declares places such as schools and places of worship firearm-free zones.

"We are asking the government to pass this law soon. I believe we are on the edge of something -- a safer era for South Africa's schools," said Keegan.


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