[For an update to this post see An apology to my fellow countrymen by Sandile Memela]

Would Oscar Pistorius be on trial for murder if Reeva Steenkamp had turned out to be a black man?

In fact, on Valentine’s Day last year when Pistorius fired four fatal shots at close range through a locked bathroom door he thought he was hitting an intruder. Or so he wants the black female judge and the world to believe.

Had he killed a black man, would it be an issue?

You see, when some whites buy and collect guns, it is to kill two things: animals and black people. In fact, as far as some gun-toting white males are concerned, sometimes there is no distinction between the two. There are more than a few instances where white males have shot and killed black men and children thinking they were shooting at animals.

I think there wouldn’t be a trial if he had shot and killed a black man of any age. Instead, he may have been hailed as a hero and even given an award that would have read: “Here is a man who did good by shooting to kill a black thief!” Everyone would have understood and accepted that crime has reached intolerable levels in our society. The perpetrators are often black men who are unemployed and poverty-stricken. And they deserve to be shot down in cold blood for disturbing the peace of suburban life?

Many white South Africans live in fear of being attacked by black male criminals. Much as they may build sky high walls, they must double that with high-calibre guns in case black security men at the gate allow them to slip through. You cannot trust a black man. This is what white paranoia has driven some white men to do: shoot first and ask questions later. We all know and accept it is mostly black men who are robbers and thieves who prey on hard-working white families. This is the story of our lives.

We know that Pistorius made a terrible mistake. As a white male, you do not kill a white woman, especially the one you professed to love. Your role and responsibility is to protect and defend her against thugs. But if you happen to have killed her, for whatever reason, you must pin the blame on an intruder. Nobody will raise questions. It is expected for white men to shoot and kill black men to protect their property and beloved families.

I am not sure if the court will even consider the possibility of what would have happened if Pistorius had killed a black man. Will that issue even feature as an agenda item?

For those of us who are black men, it is painful to see how our lives have become cheap. We get killed for our cellphones and for driving expensive cars. Above all, we are condemned for being the source of white insecurity and fear in this beautiful land. It is okay if a white man buys and collects guns to — when allegedly provoked or threatened — shoot to kill. The black man is always a suspect, a target. And for the rest of the world, it is understandable and acceptable if a white man shoots to kill to defend his land, property and family.

In a country where the majority of the population is black, we should be concerned about how the business of justice is conducted in this most unequal land. Something in the soul of this nation dies, has died because of the emotionless way we brush off the killing of black men. There is no doubt, at least, in my mind that Oscar would have been forgiven for mercilessly killing a black man who would have broken into his house. There would be no debate on that, let alone international interest in the trial. What is another dead black man who would have been pumped with bullets for intrusion? He would have gotten what he deserved. Kill the black dog!

I tell you there would have been no speculation about why the black man would have entered Pistorius’s home. He would, even in death, have been tried and condemned for having been a robber and a thief in his motherland. Nobody would have cared for the circumstances that led him to prey on people at night. Yet when black men commit crimes, it is not because they are criminal by nature. Sometimes they are forced by economic circumstances — inequality, poverty, unemployment and envy for what white people have. Sometimes it is a deep-seated desire for revenge for stolen land and the monopolisation of mineral resources and wealth.

As Alan Paton said in his Cry, the Beloved Country, “it is fear that rules the country”, especially in the mind of some white man. They will carry guns to protect themselves and their families against black thugs? If not, they will lock themselves up behind high walls with electrical fences. And if they kill black men who try to steal, it is understandable. They could walk free to … continue killing black men!


Sandile Memela

Sandile Memela

Sandile Memela is a journalist, writer, cultural critic, columnist and civil servant. He lives in Midrand.

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