Safety in South Africa

I USUALLY get a wee feeling of joy when my home country of South Africa appears in the news.

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I say usually, because sometimes the news isn't so good and any tingle of happiness from seeing or reading about home is tainted by the detail that follows.

Striking miners shot dead by police one day, superstar athlete shoots girlfriend the next.

Violent crime occurs so frequently there, that the local media only reports on the most horrible of cases.

If someone were to be hijacked in Glasgow, there would be wall-to-wall coverage. Yet every day in South Africa, people are hijacked - and in many cases shot dead.

Unless there is a particularly unusual element to the story, such events are not deemed newsworthy.

Talking down South Africa is almost a hobby among ex-pats, and it's something that gets my back up.

It seems anyone who left South Africa feels the need to tell those who will listen just how horrible it is in an attempt to justify their decision for emigrating.

The horror stories about life in South Africa are often exaggerated but even when they aren't, they paint a miserable picture.

I talk my country up whenever I can and I visit home whenever I can.

But the Oscar Pistorius trial is raising some uncomfortable questions.

Of course the gory details of what happened to Reeva Steenkamp are horrendous, and watching Pistorius squirm under relentless bombardment from the prosecutor seems like the most perverse form of entertainment.

Seeing Steenkamp's family in court while her injuries are described or displayed, is heartbreaking.

And the questions friends ask me about the trial show how alien South Africa seems to them.

WHAT kind of a place is a country where, in a gated community, people still live in terror of home invasion robberies?

They have high fences and security guards - yet still South Africans wealthy enough to live in such communities have guns at home, burglar alarms and apparently are so scared they shoot blindly.

Pistorius's explanation as to what happened that night might seem far-fetched, but when you put it into the context of a place where violent criminals kill people as often as they don't, it may not be so unbelievable to imagine that, in the grip of fear, someone might fire through a closed door at a perceived threat. Whether he was in fear for his life is for the judge to decide.

But it is not just Pistorius's reputation on the line in that Pretoria courtroom - the Rainbow Nation itself is on trial.

South Africa's reputation being dragged through the mud by Pistorius's defence is just another sad result of this real-life horror story.

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