Oscar Pistorius doesn’t dispute that he shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He does dispute that he murdered her, though. Pistorius says he mistook her for an intruder and killed her in a moment of frightened shock.
Four days before Oscar Pistorius shot her in the elbow, hip and head through the bathroom door at his home in Pretoria, Reeva Steenkamp tweeted a message about violence against women in South Africa. “I woke up in a happy safe home this morning,” the 29-year-old wrote. “Not everyone did. Speak out against the rape of individuals.”
Steenkamp’s tweet is just one of the many ominous details in this disturbing case. But reading on, you get a sense of why Pistorius’ defense — whether it’s actually true or not — could potentially make sense.
South Africa is the most inequitable country on earth…
This stark gradation helps explain South Africa’s raging violent crime (and why, contrary to legend, Cape Town actually has a higher murder rate than Johannesburg). In 2011 the U.N. Office for Drugs and Crime found that South Africa had the 10th highest murder rate in the world. Rape is endemic. Two separate surveys of the rural Eastern Cape found that 27.6% of men admitted to being rapists and 46.3% of victims were under 16, 22.9% under 11 and 9.4% under 6–figures that accorded with the high proportion of attacks that occurred within families.
27.6% of men admitted to being rapists.
But what really distinguishes South Africa from its peers in this league of violence is not how the violence rises with inequality nor its sexual nature–both typical of places with high crime–but its pervasiveness and persistence. With the exception of Venezuela, all the other top 10 violent countries are small African, Central American or Caribbean states whose populations tend to be bound together in close physical proximity, creating tight knots of violence. South Africa, on the other hand, knows crime as a vast stretch of lawlessness covering an area twice the size of France or Texas. And it has been that way almost as long as anyone can remember.
The article describes the relationship between police and criminals as “street theater in which criminals make a show of running away and officers halfheartedly pursue them. ” The scene painted in the piece is frightening. There’s mention of “local politicians (shooting) each other in the street.” Often.
There is a moral to these South African stories. A nation whose racial reconciliation is even today hailed as an example to the world is, in reality, ever more dangerously splintered by crime. And inside this national disintegration, however small and well-defended South Africans make their laagers, it’s never enough. Father rapes daughter. Mother poisons sons. Icon shoots cover girl.
None of this excuses Pistorius, nor does it mean his defense is truthful. All it does if give us an accurate picture of the disturbing violence in South Africa. It doesn’t take away from the tragedy of Reeva Steenkamp’s death. It just shows that there may be more to this story than “Hero Shouldn’t Have Been Called Hero, Is Actually Vicious Murderer.” It just shows that this tragedy wasn’t rare. Tragedy is epidemic in South Africa.