Gun Free South Africa (GFSA) was founded in 1995 by Bishop Peter Storey. Their initial aims were to “reduce gun-related violence” in South Africa. They were fundamental to the creation of the Firearms Control Act of 2000, which became law in mid-2004. They claim to represent the voice of the “unarmed majority” against the machinations of the so-called “gun lobby”.
A major GFSA policy position is their allegation that civilians are the most important source of guns for criminals. They therefore argue for the severe curtailment and restriction of civilian firearm ownership. Although they do not explicitly state their ultimate aim of an entirely gun-free South Africa, it does not require extensive mental gymnastics to reach such a conclusion. GFSA also claim that they enjoy widespread public support. I have been unable to find any evidence in support of this assertion, and it seems GFSA infer that they are acting on behalf of people who have never canvassed for them.
The purpose of this article is not to discuss and debunk GFSA’s questionable claims about civilian firearm ownership. We have already addressed those myths, and it is a topic for another day. This is an investigation concerning in whose interests GFSA are acting, and why they possess the levels of influence they do.
Gun Free South Africa is an enigmatic entity. They are a registered non-profit organisation, and they have an extensive board of directors with varied backgrounds. So far, so normal for an NGO. When one starts looking into their financing, and the activities of their board members, things become considerably more intriguing.
Who runs and supports Gun Free South Africa?
The Gun Free South Africa board comprises several people with external interests:
- Ronald Menoe: Head of Stakeholder Management, Corruption Watch
- Angelica Pino: Programme Director Community Action and Knowledge Management, Sonke Gender Justice
- Richard Matzopoulos: Specialist Scientist, Burden of Disease Research Unit, Medical Research Council
- Adele Kirsten: Works for the Institute of Security Studies (ISS)
GFSA, Corruption Watch, Sonke Gender Justice, and the ISS are all beneficiaries of a common charity: the Open Society Foundation of South Africa (OSF-SA).
The OSF-SA is affiliated with the Open Society Foundations (OSF), which is headquartered in New York. Billionaire George Soros founded the OSF in 1993, and it has presence in over 100 countries worldwide.
A collaboration between a diverse group of individuals in pursuit of a common goal is not an unexpected observation. This is after all the very nature of an NGO. But it is telling that so many of the organisations associated with GFSA board members are OSF-SA beneficiaries. Again, it may be purely coincidental that this is the case, but it is highly unlikely. As we will see, the Gun Free South Africa has deep ties with the OSF.
Additionally, Natalie Jaynes, who is the former National Director of GFSA (a position she held for 7 months), is the current Director of Learning and Grant Making at the OSF in New York. So, here is another GFSA director who is not only linked to the OSF, but who actually holds a fairly prominent leadership position within the structures of that charity.
Finally, we must mention Rebecca Davis. You can find her on Twitter under the handle of @becsplanb, and she is a notable Daily Maverick journalist. During the last few years she has written several articles (here, here, and here) which openly support GFSA’s initiatives, whilst simultaneously pouring scorn on the so-called “middle-aged white men of the pro-gun lobby”. The latter refers to a rather infamous tweet she sent in November 2015, provided here for posterity. Interestingly, the Daily Maverick is also an OSF-SA beneficiary.
Apart from this diverse collection of individuals, there is no evidence that Gun Free South Africa enjoy widespread public support. The only easily accessible indicator of their level of public support is their Twitter account. As of writing they have a grand total of 985 followers. In contrast, GunSite South Africa (a firearm web forum) has 1330 Twitter followers and 30 000 members. And OUTA has over 23 000. I don’t think it requires further elaboration that their numbers indicate a dismal lack of public support. But more on this later.
The OSF-SA funding network
The OSF-SA is a sizeable NGO, and their overall donations for the 2016 financial year totalled over R91 million. For the purpose of this article, I am going to place focus on the their donations to GFSA and the organisations affiliated with their board members.
|1 500 000
|1 250 000
|Sonke Gender Justice
|African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum
|1 145 340
|1 300 000
|1 200 000
During 2015 GFSA collaborated with Amanda.mobi in launching a campaign calling for the SAPS to be disarmed of their R5 rifles. They used the Marikana incident as their soapbox, and referred to the R5 as a “massacre rifle”. This obvious use of emotive language did not have the desired effect: the SAPS still use their R5 rifles. Amandla.mobi received a grant of R100 000 from the OSF-SA in 2016.
It is interesting to note that the OSF-SA also financially backed several other actions against the SAPS after Marikana in 2014:
- R60 000 donated to David Bruce to act as an independent expert for the Farlam Commission
- R50 000 donated to the Institute of Development and Labour Law (UCT) for research
- R50 000 donated to the Society, Work and Development Institute (Wits) for public seminars
- R100 000 donated to Uhuru Productions for Miners Shot Down post-production support
In addition to the above, they also made large donations to the African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum in 2014, 2015, and 2016. These donations were to fund ambiguously-worded projects such as “to promote police accountability in South Africa” and “challenge and strengthen the legal basis for the use of force by the South African Police Service.”
Gun Free South Africa’s income and spending
The detailed state of GFSA’s financial position and sources of income is difficult to assess. Additionally, they do not openly disclose the identities of all their donors. Except for the explicit mention of the OSF-SA and select others. Indeed, the OSF-SA features so prominently that Gun Free South Africa displays the OSF logo on their website. Tracking down some of the other donors was challenging, but not impossible.
With regards to Gun Free South Africa’s actual finances:
- 2010 – GFSA appear to have received about R635 228.
- 2012 – GFSA received R342 548, of which R174 361 was spent on salaries, R28 108 on administration, and only R158 827 on projects (46%).
- 2013 – GFSA received R826 603, of which R469 589 were spent on salaries (a 269% increase from 2012!), R68 544 on administration, and R218 046 on projects (26%).
- 2014 – a dramatic increase in donations to R2 338 662, of which R577 434 were spent on salaries, R74 342 on administration, and R1 640 244 on projects (70%).
- 2015 – GFSA received R1 646 857, of which R798 161 were spent on salaries, R72 769 on administration, and R771 981 on projects (47%).
Donors who support GFSA and its projects
The Southern Africa Trust made only one donation to GFSA ever, which was $116 000 in 2006. They have made no further subsequent donations.
The Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust have also not made any explicit donations to GFSA since 2012, and likely not since long before even then.
During 2010 and 2011 several organisations donated to GFSA, including the Gauteng Department of Community Safety and the Embassy of Finland.
The 2014 and 2015 financial years also provided an interesting array of donors. The annual report states as follows: “This includes financial support from the Open Society Foundation for South Africa and GFSA’s anonymous benefactor, as well as donations by Y&R Advertising, Read Hope Phillips, Howard Varney…”
Now, the infamous “If your stolen gun was there, so were you” advertisement was developed for GFSA (allegedly pro bono) by Y&R Advertising in 2014 or 2015. This represents a significant financial commitment. It therefore serves to explain part of the sizeable spike in reported donations GFSA received in the applicable financial years.
Read Hope Phillips not only donated to GFSA, but also acted as their legal representation against SAGA (SA Gunowners Association). The latter took GFSA to task via the Advertising Standards Authority over the aforementioned Y&R advertisement. As of 1 November 2016, Read Hope Phillips were fully acquired by PwC, and ceased to exist.
Howard Varney is a senior program adviser with International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). The ICTJ receives financial support from the Foundation to Promote Open Society, Open Society Institute Budapest Foundation, and Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa. All three of these organisations are part of the Open Society Foundation, so again we have an OSF connection to a GFSA beneficiary. Mr. Varney wrote an extensive paper for the Open Society Georgia Foundation on behalf of the ICTJ, which was published in February 2017. It is unclear how much he donated to GFSA during 2014 and 2015. But he is clearly no stranger to the OSF and its beneficiaries.
It is intriguing to note the mysterious “anonymous benefactor” mentioned by GFSA in their 2014/15 annual report. The magnitude and regularity of their contribution is open to speculation, as is their identity. There are no available specifics.
The OSF’s role in Gun Free South Africa
It is important to remember that the previous Firearms Control Act amendments came to light at the end of 2014, and the Parliamentary debates surrounding them took place in March 2015. The astronomical spike in Gun Free South Africa’s donations and grants during this exact period is impossible to ignore. That they spent markedly more on projects during 2014 (752% of what they spent during 2013!), which was during the run-up to the proposed FCA amendments, also raises eyebrows.
That the OSF and its patron-in-chief, George Soros, are pushing a civilian disarmament agenda under the guise of stronger gun control legislation is hardly a secret. Their attempts at doing so in numerous countries worldwide is highly publicised. But we will get to more of this later.
What is evident from the above is that GFSA’s annual revenue differs extensively from year to year. Equally, the makeup of their expenditure is subject to extremely violent variances. Yet, despite the large donations they received during 2014 and 2015, GFSA’s income stream isn’t that impressive when compared with other OSF-affiliated recipients:
- The ISS is a billion Rand corporation, with income received in 2014 and 2015 being R145 941 942 and R127 177 552 respectively.
- Likewise, Sonke Gender Justice managed to raise over R150 000 000 in donations during 2014/2015.
None the less, the OSF-SA is clearly GFSA’s most significant single donor.
In 2014 they donated R400 000 towards a specific project: the Know the law, use the law, save a life campaign. The campaign had two goals; to “defend and strengthen gun-control legislation and how it is implemented”, and to “promote awareness of how regulation can protect the public from gun violence”. This figure represents 25% of GFSA’s project expenditure for 2014, and 17% of their overall donor income.
The R700 000 OSF-SA grant in 2015 funded GFSA’s effort to “promote the safety and security of South African citizens by advocating for the implementation of the Firearms Control Act”. This amount is nearly 91% of GFSA’s project expenditure in 2015. It also represents 42% of GFSA’s received donations for that year.
Depending on how one interprets the figures, the OSF-SA directly funds anywhere between 25% to 91% of GFSA’s projects. Perhaps even significantly more than that. Their donations also represent between 17%, to 43% of GFSA’s total receipt of grants and donations. It is highly plausible that the OSF-SA potentially funds well over 50% of GFSA’s revenue stream.
Additionally, a large number of GFSA’s board members and donors have a direct or indirect affiliation with the OSF. It is therefore not inaccurate to claim that the OSF provides in excess of 50% of GFSA’s total annual funding. That is a significant controlling stake. George Soros, the founder of the OSF, has repeatedly publicly expressed his desire for stronger gun control legislation.
It is clear that the OSF does not take an unbiased or neutral view regarding the subject. And they are willing to fund expensive projects to further the goals of gun control. Over the last few years Mr. Soros donated $18 billion to his Open Society Foundation. It represents the largest ever transfer of wealth from a private donor to a single foundation.
Interestingly, there have been several recent controversies involving the OSF and its subsidiaries. In November 2015 the Russian Federation added two OSF groups to a list of “undesirable foreign organisations”, effectively banning them. The reason for the ban? The Russians considered the OSF organisations as “a threat to the foundations of Russia’s Constitutional order and national security”. Earlier this year the Hungarian government also initiated a crack-down (but not a ban) on the OSF and other Soros-funded NGOs. Finally, in November 2016 leaked emails connected a Soros-funded charity in Malaysia with possible election interference. As interesting as George Soros’s controversies are, I will have to deal with them in another article.
The OSF is not an independent charity that seeks to advance philanthropy; it is Soros’s personal vehicle with which to advance whatever agendas he wishes.
GFSA claim to represent the voice of the “unarmed majority”. They also claim to enjoy widespread public support. This is disingenuous. The majority of their financial support stems from the Open Society Foundation and organisations and individuals affiliated with it. Either directly or indirectly. To the contrary, there is no indication of any meaningful popular civil support for GFSA at all.
Gun Free South Africa specifically mention that their Twitter following grew from 150 in 2012 to 450 in 2013. At the time of writing it sits at 985. This is not a figure indicative of any broad public following or support. In comparison, Gun Owners of South Africa (GOSA) boasts a diverse membership total of over 34 000. I would think that this is considerably more representative of civil society.
So what is GFSA then?
Gun Free South Africa is the proxy of multinational corporations, NGOs and special interest groups. They also receive funding from foreign governments, as evident from the Finnish embassy’s contributions to them. Most telling of all, they are in the pocket of George Soros and his OSF; without their financial support, and that of affiliated organisations, they will effectively cease to exist.
An organisation majority funded by a foreign NGO is pursuing a civilian disarmament agenda disguised as “common sense gun control”. And they are foisting this agenda on South African citizens by claiming it is in our best interests. This is a direct subversion of our democratic processes and institutions. That government has allowed Gun Free South Africa to give such extensive input into the formulation of firearm policy and legislation is alarming. Especially so when government frequently leave other stakeholders outside the participation process.
The recently published revelations of state capture by Jacques Pauw lends such concerns further gravitas. To what level are our political parties beholden to outside influences (and their money) that they will entertain entities such as GFSA, who have no visible popular support among the citizenry?
We can say the same about our supposedly independent media. Gun Free South Africa enjoys disproportionate amount of press and airtime to state their case. But firearm rights organisations seldom enjoy the same courtesies unless they raise objections. How much money do our media outlets receive from the OSF and its affiliates? The OSF-SA annual reports suggest that the amount is significant. If this is true, then they are not particularly independent at all.
Gun Free South Africa is certainly not the voice of the “unarmed majority”. They are not the voice of anyone except the special interest groups that fund them. And their influence on our legislative and public policy processes is a danger to our democracy. A danger that we no longer can ignore.
Researched and written by Gideon Joubert.
Gideon is the owner and editor of Paratus. He is also a member of the Gun Owners of South Africa executive committee. He has been writing about firearm ownership rights since starting Gunservant.com on 11 August 2014.