The horrific shooting of ANC councillor Jimmy Mohlala has again ignited concerns that the 2010 soccer World Cup will be blighted by security problems. — Joseph Dube, Africa co-ordinator of the International Action Network on Small Arms

There has been much speculation about a possible political motivation for the killing because Mohlala blew the whistle on alleged corruption in a 2010 construction project last year.

This of, course, must be investigated thoroughly by the police.

To the outside world, his murder reinforces many countries’ misgivings about South Africa’s ability to host the World Cup. South Africa has the fourth-highest gun homicide rate in the world. Quite simply, the country is too dangerous to host a major sporting event.

But I refuse to bow down to these critics. Not out of stubborn, misplaced pride, but because of a determination to seize this golden opportunity to change the landscape of South Africa — and not just for four weeks, but forever.

Much has been written about how 2010 could present a new South Africa to the world, a South Africa that has redeemed itself of its shameful past and is now a leading economy of the global south.

What if we used the Cup as an opportunity to show the world how a country can combat gun violence?

I can think of no better way to commemorate a man mercilessly shot down in front of his child than for the government to immediately declare the World Cup a gun-free event.

Easier said than done, but here are three steps that could be taken to ensure that gun violence does not ruin our finest moment.

First, declare every football stadium in the land a gun-free zone in accordance with the Firearms Control Act of 2000.

Second, initiate an immediate moratorium on the carrying of guns in public until the end of the tournament.

Third, issue an immediate moratorium on the issuing of gun licences until the end of the tournament.

National and international research confirms that fewer guns in civilian possession brings greater safety and security. Gun homicides dropped by more than half in Joburg after stronger gun laws were passed in 2000.

Look at Brazil, another country where tourism and the economy are blighted by gun violence, and which, coincidentally, will host the World Cup in 2014. Gun homicides there have decreased by 18percent since tough laws were passed in 2005 banning the carrying of firearms in public and raising the minimum age for gun possession.

If we are going to see a further reduction in gun homicides in South Africa we have to take serious steps.

No doubt some people will complain if they are denied a firearm licence or are forbidden from carrying their handguns. But this is not a call for a permanent ban on gun carrying or licences, merely one for a specific period.

Then the citizens of South Africa can judge for themselves whether they felt safer before the World Cup preparations or at the end of the tournament.

I have been involved in the gun-control movement since 1996. We have seen much success, not least in helping to destroy the myth that gun ownership is “normal” or a “right” rather than a privilege for a tiny number of people in exceptional circumstances.

But in recent years the movement has struggled to maintain momentum.

Let us remember Mohlala’s untimely death as the moment at which South Africans connected the beautiful game with lasting peace and security. The countdown to a safer South Africa starts now.

DATED: 9th January 2009