Monday 3 March 2014

Oscar Pistorius and gun crime in South Africa

One of the main items the South African journalists are talking about in the Oscar Pistorius case is understanding the fear of crime that South Africans live with, the fear of having a gun pulled on you in the street, at lights whilst driving, in malls, the work place and in your own home. The reality is you don't have to live in a bad area, you don't have to be involved with drugs or crime, you don't even have to be rich to face a realistic risk of having a gun pulled on you at anytime.

The average daily salary here is R170, just under £10 so if someone can steal your phone/laptop/car easily, because you'll assume they have a gun even if they haven't pulled it already, then they will. A friend had his laptop stolen, they caught the guy, he'd sold it for R50.

There are plenty of view points on whether he is guilty of murder or self defence and he has never denied actually pulling the trigger and killing Reeva Steencamp. He has to live with that either way for the rest of his life but the difference in the judges ruling is 25+ years for murder or max 15 years in prison or no custodial sentance if self defence.

There is no 'trial by jury' here in South Africa. A judge hears the state prosecutors evidence, the defence, witnesses and Oscar himself and she will make the decision as to whether he faces a custodial sentence or not and how long for.

As a British expat, I arrived over 3 years ago in South Africa and I was scared. I lived in fear of a gun being pulled on me and/or my family, but like I said I live with it, we all do, it's a reality, not an unfounded fear.
I stopped being scared and fearful and became cautious. I heard the stories, nearly ever one has one to tell about violent robbery, guns, but I'm scared again when an armed robbery took place in a building I was in whilst volunteering for a charity a few weeks ago and I saw first hand the effects it has had on the staff and residents.

Even family and friends who have visited us here do not understand the fear, they come here on holiday we act as tour guides, keep them safe. We issue instructions on their personal safety yet they still leave the window down at the lights and junctions, open their purse prior to reaching the counter, leave their bag by their feet at a cafe and even sleep with the door open because they feel safe living in a security estate, despite us telling them how easy it is to get in and about the armed robberies a few years ago.

I volunteer with several charities, I was at one last month when 2 gunmen held the staff up, it involves me visiting townships and in fact I camped over in one last year and due to the same the weekend after next. I shop, I drive at night, I go out with friends, everything I did in the UK, but here I'm scanning the mirrors, reading situations, turning road if their is a road block ahead, wear my handbag over my shoulder, carry my cell in my jeans pocket, keep my handbag under my feet when driving, leave a hijack distance between me and the stationary vehicle in front of me.

I'm NEVER relaxed, I'm always on full alert and aware of people around me, if something doesn't look/feel right.....I'm out of there.

I've posted many blogs about safety, personal experiences, fear of crime, when I've felt safe, the wonderful opportunities living in South Africa offers us. It's not all bad, in fact life here is very good, but like I say, you need to be cautious 24/7.

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