The Pistorius case casts a lurid light on a corrupt and crime-ridden South Africa

The background to the Pistorius case is concerning, but it is no surprise: in South Africa only one in 50 hijackings lead to a conviction and most murders go unsolved

Share

The trial of Oscar Pistorius is extraordinary in itself; there is something very dark at the heart of this case. But it is also extraordinary for what it is revealing, in unintended ways, about the heart of South Africa today.

On Wednesday, it was announced that the detective who was supposed to be leading the inquiry is to appear in court in May for attempted murder. It is alleged that two years ago, Detective Hilton Botha, while drunk, fired from a police vehicle at a minibus taxi full of black passengers. This kind of thing was a popular recreation for drunk, white policemen during the apartheid years. The case against Detective Botha was dropped, but has now been reopened, presumably because of the potential PR disaster.

Botha also suggested that a row between Pistorius and his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, was overheard by witnesses. After questioning, he agreed that one of them was half a kilometre from Pistorius’s house. Botha has also admitted to not wearing protective clothing when entering the crime scene, and he announced, without forensic evidence, that Pistorius had testosterone in his house. It seems the drugs in question may have been harmless herbal remedies.

None of this comes as a surprise. The police in South Africa are notoriously incompetent, corrupt and poorly trained. Many of them barely speak English, and to watch an officer filling in a crime sheet, as I did recently, is to understand the notion of eternity. Only one in 50 hijackings lead to a conviction. Most murders go unsolved and the crimes and misdemeanours of the ANC upper echelons are ignored unless the press becomes involved.

There has been appalling corruption at the very highest: Jackie Selebi, the chief of police, was in cahoots with a gangster. Before his appointment, he had been head of the ANC Youth League. For years, he was protected by senior figures in the Mbeki government, although he was finally convicted in 2011 after sustained pressure from newspapers; predictably, he was released a year later on medical grounds: no comrade in the struggle must linger in jail. It is one of the redeeming features of South Africa that the press is free, if not always fearless. But even this freedom is under threat from new legislation. Nadine Gordimer, long-time ANC groupie, told me recently just how disillusioned she is.

It was reported that two representatives of the ANC Women’s League attended day one of the Pistorius trial; they sat on the bench next to the Pistorius family. One of them, Sally Nkosi Peterson, delivered her verdict. She said that Pistorius should be crushed by the “iron fist” of justice. This speaks eloquently of the ANC’s view of itself as more important than the law or the legal process; it’s not a political party, but a movement, peopled by “cadres” and “comrades”. Or perhaps it just indicates a profound ignorance of the notion of the rule of law, a failing shared with President Jacob Zuma. The most notorious member of the Women’s League was Winnie Mandela, who in 1989 escaped jail with the help of friends in high places for involvement in the kidnap of a 14-year-old boy, Stompie Moeketsi.

What has happened in South Africa over the past 20 years is a tragedy. In South Africa, there are very few people who believe any longer in the prospect of a decent and fair society under the ANC. As Desmond Tutu put it, the ANC leadership stopped the gravy train only long enough to jump aboard. The whole notion of a rainbow nation now seems hollow, even derisory. The truth is the ANC under Jacob Zuma is in tatters. If it is seriously challenged in an election by a coalition of opposition, the danger is that the ANC might turn racist and accuse white people of non-cooperation and exploitation. The Zimbabwean model, which would follow, had the fervent support of Julius Malema, once head of the ANC Youth League, now expelled from the ANC. He is the proud owner – it is reported – of five BMWs allegedly paid for by cronies for whom it is said he secured government contracts. Some years ago, Francis Fukuyama suggested that the biggest danger for South Africa would be white flight, both of capital and of educated people. It is happening.

Some serious commentators are talking of a failed state. The characteristics of a failed state are a complete lack of revenue collection, a lack of protection for citizens, a breakdown of civil society and its institutions, rampant corruption and an inability to pay international debts. Despite everything, South Africa is a long way from failure on these criteria. But there are alarming signs of decay.

The education system is failing – although it is significantly better in the Western Cape than in other provinces. The fact that the Cape is the only province it does not rule is difficult for the ANC to accept: there is still a pervasive sense that, because of its role in the nearly mythical “struggle”, it has the divine right to run everything, to control every quango, appoint every judge, to share out all the well-paid jobs, to ignore the constitution when it suits its purposes, and to use the organs of state for personal advantage. In the meantime, the gap between the rich and the poor grows and crime is widespread. Because of the list form of proportional representation, none of the MPs is responsible to anyone except the leadership.

Perhaps our expectations of the Mandela era were naive. Perhaps the legacy of apartheid was underestimated; perhaps the idea of a non-racial and fair society was not a real prospect; perhaps a reasonable education for all was never possible. But these failings are made far worse by the government of Jacob Zuma, a man who appears to be in the process of reinventing himself as a Zulu chief, complete with a leopardskin cloak that includes the flattened head of the leopard, irresistibly suggesting road kill. Financed by the state and supplemented by loans from questionable businessmen, Zuma has spent a vast amount of money fortifying and rebuilding his ancestral home. He has 21 children to house.

In the countryside, not far from his mansions, live some of the poorest of the rural poor. For me, born in South Africa and ever hopeful, it is one of the greatest disillusionments of the new South Africa that the ANC should routinely use the terrible apartheid years to justify or explain every breach of the law, every incompetence and every snout in the trough.

So back to the trial of Pistorius, with all its bizarre revelations. As it happens, I love being in South Africa: it’s never dull.

Justin Cartwright is the author of 18 works of fiction and non-fiction

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Commercial Property

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: KENT MARKET TOWN - An exciting new role has ar...

Financial Accountants, Cardiff, £250 p/day

£180 - £250 per day + competitive: Orgtel: Financial Accountants - Key Banking...

Regulatory Reporting-MI-Bank-Cardiff-£300/day

£200 - £500 per day + competitive: Orgtel: I am currently working on a large p...

Recruitment Consultant - Bristol - Computer Futures - £18-25k

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Computer Futures are currently...

Day In a Page

 

Careful, Mr Cameron. Don't flirt with us on tax

Chris Blackhurst
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices