Whose name is on the next bullet?
In 1997 Claire Short, the then British Overseas Development Minister, wrote a letter to the government in Harare renouncing her government's responsibilities to compensate their kith and kin whose land Zimbabwe wanted to acquire for redistribution.
The letter itself was short, but its impact is still being felt today.
She wrote, “I should make it clear that we do not accept that Britain has a special responsibility to meet the costs of land purchase in Zimbabwe.
“We are a new Government from diverse backgrounds without links to former colonial interests. My own origins are Irish and as you know we were colonised not colonisers.”
I remember that when the letter was made public, being young and naïve, I did not dwell much on the political import of this missive.
Rather, I was intrigued by the fact that the Irish had actually been colonised.
I had always assumed that colonialism was something whites did to non-whites. This set me off on a quick research on Northern Ireland's problems and fortunately the bookshelves at home contained a book by Andrew Boyd titled “Holy War in Belfast”.
It was penned in 1969, the same year that what the Irish call the “Troubles” had just started and war was in the air.
As I read further, back in 1997, I was intrigued still to discover the problem between English and Irish was still on going. (It was only the following year, in 1998, that Bill Clinton famously “waged peace” and the Good Friday Agreement was signed, thus paving the way for a settlement of sorts.)
It was in that burst of interest in the colonisation of white by white that I came across a statement made by an anonymous resident of Belfast as quoted by the London Guardian in 1991.
That statement faded from memory over the years but came back sharply to the fore in the context of a study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The war-weary Northern Irisher said, “It's not the bullet with my name on it that worries me. It's the one that says 'to whom it may concern'.”
That statement was made in the context of all-out war, but it applies just as much to non-war situations.
The UNODC tells us that young men in Southern Africa are at particular risk of being murdered in cold-blood by criminals.
The UN agency also tells us that the women of our region are in great danger of domestic violence.
Consider the risk we all face then within the context of unbridled access to firearms.
There is a strong lobby for households to protect themselves by getting alarms, security fences and, yes, guns.
Do we really want a proliferation of guns in our society?
A popular argument by those who support the “right to bear arms” is that there is no empirical evidence showing any direct link between murder and other crimes and the number of guns held by civillians.
One study by Katherine Mackenzie on gun control in SADC disputes this.
The study covered Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
It concludes, “The convergence of poverty, unemployment, a gun culture and the availability of firearms is a lethal combination which results in high levels of gun crime.
“…Countries in the region with effective gun control policies and fewer firearms in circulation have less gun crime and are safer than countries with permissive gun control policies and more firearms in circulation.”
In a nutshell, the fewer guns that are in civillian hands, the better for community security.
And it is not just about dealing with the problem at the community level.
There is a strong national security aspect when discussing access to firearms. What would happen if people took advantage of, for example, an ordinary strike by workers to start firing at the police and thus instigating real instability?
Which is why SADC states have to get more serious about implementing the various regional and international protocols and agreements they have signed up to on controlling access to and the movement of firearms.
Let us also deal with the issues of poverty that lead to prevalence of crime.
There is conceivably a big number of small arms floating around the region following the wars that have ravaged the DRC, Angola and Mozambique, while apartheid South Africa spawned a gun culture whose legacy is apparent for all to see in that country's crime statistics.
Guns, in the right hands, are good for establishing order.
But when they fall in the wrong hands we end up with bullets signed “to whom it may concern” whizzing through the air.