Oscar Pistorius (R) is escorted by police at a Pretoria
police station. Pistorius has been charged with the urder
of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp. REUTERS/Stringer
When armed robbers burst into John Kullman's Johannesburg
home last year, putting a pistol in his face and telling him to
get on the floor, the only thing he did was obey.
It's a decision he says saved his life, and the lives of his
wife and two young children.
"There's nothing you can do. If you try to do something,
you're going to get hurt, or worse," said Kullman, who was
tied up along with his family while the thieves rifled
through the house for valuables.
Like many people concerned about South Africa's high rates of
violent crime, Kullman puts his faith in high walls,
surveillance cameras and electric fences - and passivity if
all those fail.
South Africa's annual murder rate has more than halved since
the end of apartheid but remains high at around 32 per
100,000 people, compared with a global average of about 7.
So there are still those who go to sleep with a hand-gun
under the pillow or in the bedside drawer. "Blade Runner"
Oscar Pistorius appears to have been one.
The Paralympic track star, who became the first double
amputee to compete in the Olympics in London 2012, was
charged with murder on Thursday after his girlfriend was shot
dead in his upscale Pretoria home in the early hours.
"The conventional wisdom is that one should not have a
firearm and one should submit meekly," Mark Notelovitz,
managing director of specialist residential security company
Coretac, told Reuters.
"The problem is that when you submit meekly you are then
under the control of whoever has come into your home. You
never know what you're going to get if you submit."
Police said they had recovered a 9mm pistol at Pistorius'
home, and media reports suggest he kept other weapons within
easy reach in his house, which sits in the middle of a gated
community ringed by three-metre-high walls and electric
A Twitter posting by Pistorius in November also paints the
picture of a would-be action man obsessed with security.
"Nothing like getting home to hear the washing machine on and
thinking its an intruder to go into full combat recon mode
into the pantry! waa," read the Tweet on the morning of Nov.
"I AM THE BULLET IN THE CHAMBER"
Even Pistorius's global publicity machine once chose to
compare his speed out of the blocks to a firearm, with an
advertisement by his main sponsor, sportswear maker Nike ,
showing Pistorius uncoiling into a run alongside the tagline:
"I am the bullet in the chamber. Just do it."
Although it has a reputation as a violent 'Wild West'
society, since the end of white-minority rule Nelson
Mandela's 'Rainbow Nation' has clamped down on the weapons in
circulation from the armed anti-apartheid struggle.
The ruling African National Congress (ANC) passed a law in
2004 tightening gun ownership, after which many South
Africans - in particular whites whose fear of social collapse
under ANC rule had ebbed - took the opportunity of amnesties
to hand in their weapons.
"The percentage of people who own firearms for self-defence
is probably the minority and certainly a lot less than it was
10, 15 or 20 years ago," Notelovitz said. "And the percentage
who have a firearm near at hand to use in an emergency is
By far the biggest use of weapons among civilians is for
recreation and the multi-million dollar hunting industry.
"Most people either inherited firearms or are buying a
hunting rifle," said James Cameron, who runs courses for
people seeking rifle or hand-gun permits. "Very few people
However, there are those who, hardened by personal experience
and almost daily newspaper headlines detailing horrific
violent crimes, still see a firearm in the house as a
"I don't own a gun. I wish I did," said Nthabiseng Xaba, who
was robbed at gunpoint by three men in 2008. "If I'd had a
gun then, I would have been able to protect myself - shoot
those guys and kick them out of my house."