On 14th February 2013 an incident took place that shocked the world. The esteemed and highly regarded athlete Oscar Pistorius had been arrested for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Pistorius was a trailblazer within sport, he was the first Paralympian to compete in the Olympics and managed to progress through his first heat against the most elite and able-bodied competition on the planet. In South Africa Pistorius is a national hero for what he has done. The world of sport looked up to him in the same way they did Lance Armstrong for the barriers they had overcome. Like Armstrong, however, something happened to destroy his reputation.
According to Pistorius, he came home and thought there was an intruder in the bathroom. He shot said intruder four times before knocking the door down with a baseball bat and realising it was his girlfriend. Many questions have to be raised at this point; whether Pistorius did it or not is irrelevant to a certain extent, the issues that should be raised are those that highlight why someone’s first instinct upon hearing an intruder in the bathroom is to shoot at them.
South Africa, and Johannesburg in particular, has a reputation as a crime-ridden nation. There are vast amounts of shootings, robberies, kidnappings and rape cases, so to a certain extent it is understandable that civilians would want to arm themselves. That said, you then raise the issue of whether they should be able to shoot first and think later. Had it actually been a burglar in Pistorius’ bathroom, would it have been right to shoot them four times without warning? No it wouldn’t. The door was shut, which meant the robber wouldn’t have known Pistorius was even there and there is a good chance that, as often happens, he would have fled the scene had he been spotted. It speaks of a broken culture and a lack of respect for human life to think that a simple robbery deserves instant death. For the moment I am putting aside the obvious question: why would you think that a person in the bathroom with the door shut is a burglar?
The housing compound where he lived has some of the best security in Johannesburg; he lived in an area amongst the rich and famous, where the violent crime statistics are pretty low. Since the shooting happened, the government should now be looking into what they can do to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Banning guns will never happen in a country like South Africa, so they must make the sentences for people who have used firearms in an illegal manner much more severe – unless of course it has been as a result of fear for their life, or physical intimidation or such like, but the law must still abide. Pistorius should be sent to jail; he used very poor judgement, and should never have used a gun in that situation in the first place. Setting an example may then perhaps go some way to stemming armed violence in South Africa.
Image by Jim Thurston