Heidelberg (South Africa) (AFP)
It was the first indication that a crowd was expected – a coffee trailer perched on the lawn of the Rooikraal shooting range south of Johannesburg.
Folding chairs and coolers in tow, the crowds swelled as the morning darkness rose to be gradually replaced by a red glow on the corn plantation that nestled the lineup.
Dozens of people, mostly women of color weighed down by growing fears for safety, gathered to practice target practice.
Africa’s most industrialized nation is known for its appallingly high crime rate. At least 50 people are killed every day, according to police figures.
“Is it painful to put it next to your shoulders?” Rabina Karabo, 21, asks an instructor, pointing to a 50 caliber sniper rifle.
A middle-aged woman standing behind her coffee sipping and wearing earmuffs and safety glasses exclaims, “It’s a beast of arms!” ”
If the weapon is not well placed on the shoulders “it will kick you like a donkey”, warns the instructor.
South Africa has one of the highest murder rates in the world for a country not at war.
Today, anger over the country’s inability to protect its own population is driving many people to arm themselves.
The Girls on Fire women’s empowerment group is trying to increase the use of guns among women.
For Matseko Silanda, 47, the training helped her get rid of her nervousness and now she wants to own a gun.
” I’m a woman. You know women in South Africa are not safe, ”she said, showing a clip of her shooting at the shooting range.
Brought back to the shooting range by her mother, Karabo is not yet sold on possession of a firearm but hopes to “learn to control” one.
“I shouldn’t be afraid of this,” she said moments after firing four shots.
Figures for the number of guns in South Africa are sketchy and opinions are mixed on whether to carry one.
Defense group Gun Free South Africa estimates that there are at least 4.5 million legal firearms with an almost similar number in obscure hands in a country of 58.8 million people.
A six-month government amnesty period for returning illegal firearms yielded only 46,714 firearms in 2020, but was extended until the end of January after being hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
Coach Michelle Van Der Merwe says owning a gun has “freed her” and that she has been successful in helping those who are victims of attempted hijackings.
“When you take their first hit, the fear disappears in them,” making them “brave, like warriors,” she said.
© 2021 AFP