Security guards, electric fences and CCTV could not stop cold-blooded killing

Peace shattered at a gated community insulated from crime

Pretoria

Behind a three metre high cappuccino-coloured brick wall topped with an additional metre of electric fencing, neat rows of nearly identical houses stretch down manicured streets, interspersed with sprinklers and palm trees. Golf carts chug by, as dozens of security guards patrol in navy uniforms.

In order to gain access to Paralympian Oscar Pistorius' upmarket security estate, one has to pass a manned boom under the watchful gaze of closed circuit cameras, produce identification, sign in with officials, and call a specific unit number, for the resident to then buzz in any visitor.

The website of Silver Woods estate boasts of its security apparatus – a top selling point in a country where crime remains the most serious issue for home-buyers. It is one of South Africa's most upscale complexes, nestled in a long line of similar developments along a residential street on the outskirts of the administrative capital, and home to several other high-profile local sports stars. Residents in the estate say there has been no security incident behind its walls for more than two years, and have reacted to the shooting with profound shock and disbelief. Neighbours expressed shock at the arrest of a "good guy".

Brendan Slabbert spent time with Pistorius, even walking his dogs. "He was an amazing person, not an aggressive person at all," he said. "Just really a calm person, talking about God a lot. And I didn't expect this."

"It is difficult to imagine an intruder entering this community, but we live in a country where intruders can get in wherever they want to," said another Silver Woods resident, who asked not to be named. "We worry about inside jobs, where security and other people could be in on it. And help them get in," said Nadine de Beer, a local student.

Perceptions of crime in South Africa defy official statistics, which actually show that the crime rate is falling. As a result, in a country with the highest levels of gun crime in the world, many middle and upper class South Africans who can afford security say they won't live without it. Their reliance on private security firms for peace of mind is reflected in the growth of the industry, with the number of companies increasing every year for the last three years.

Even in the relative calm of Pretoria's Silver Lakes district, residents in neighbouring estates say they keep guns in their homes to protect themselves from whatever may come in the night.

Local resident Dylan Martin, 20, who has lived in a neighbouring estate for the last six years told The Independent that he knows of other householders in the area who keep guns to hand. "It's not his fault," Martin said of Pistorius' alleged shooting, "if he thought there was an intruder, it's just natural instinct."

Police spokeswoman Denise Beukes confirmed that there have been break-ins in the vicinity, but added that it remains one of the safest areas in the province.

Despite the proliferation of arms, gun control in the country remains a priority for authorities, and Pistorius' 9mm pistol was registered.

"Yes, they are celebrities, but this is happening every day in South Africa," said Adele Kirsten, a member of Gun Free South Africa. "Thousands of people are killed annually by gun violence."

Under siege? Women in South Africa

South Africa has been described by women's groups as a country under siege, with the highest incidence of domestic violence in the world.

The events which led to the death of Reeva Steenkamp at Oscar Pistorius's home are still under investigation, but the incident has drawn attention to a problem that activist Nyanda Khanyile says is of crisis proportions. "The justice system doesn't take [domestic] violence seriously, and very few cases even make it as far as court," said Ms Khanyile, who works with the Sonke Gender Justice group, a movement that seeks to empower women.

The World Health Organisation estimates more than 60,000 women and children in South Africa are victims of domestic violence every month. Ms Khanyile says that's just the tip of the iceberg, as many women are reticent to report incidents, for fear of bringing shame upon their family. "Many women still don't have the freedom to make their minds up about abusive relationships," Ms Khanyile explained. "They're not emancipated economically, and there are also cultural constraints. We need to invest more resources. We need to educate police officers, and make sure women are dealt with professionally and sensitively."

Poor follow-up of reported cases has also resulted in declining faith and confidence in authorities.

Community-based organisations in South Africa say cuts in funding have made a huge dent in their ability to gain support for the issue, and a failure in policing has exacerbated the problem.

Gender organisations say the lack of services that deal with rehabilitation in correctional facilities have also contributed to a continuing cycle of violence.

Speaking generally about concerns of impunity for crimes, Ms Khanyile told The Independent: "Nobody should be let off for crimes because of their status – whether they are a politician or celebrity. Anyone who does wrong must face the matter of justice."

Nastasya Tay

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