Dream couple: But now Pistorius stands accused of mudering Steenkamp
Dream couple: But now Pistorius stands accused of mudering Steenkamp

In a country wracked by crime and rife with guns, fear of falling victim to a felony helps fuel a tragic gun death rate.

Fifty people die by the bullet every day in the country dubbed the Rainbow Nation.

Not even those at the pinnacle of society are cut off from paranoia caused by the toxic combination of high rates of robbery, carjacking and rape, accompanied by low confidence in police to uphold law and order.

World famous athlete Oscar Pistorius admitted he keeps at least two firearms in his house - a revolver pistol close to hand at his bedside and a machine gun by a window.

Today (Thursday) the 26-year-old double amputee who redefined people's perceptions of disabled sport, stands accused of gunning down his stunning model girlfriend in a hail of bullets.

Early reports indicated the Olympian, who has a string of endorsement deals with top brands like Nike, mistook Reeva Steenkamp, 29, for an intruder at his home near Pretoria.

The shocking incident saw Pistorius being led from his home by police officers, hiding his face beneath a hood from the glare of cameras gathered outside the gated community.

For the man heralded and photographed so much during last year's London Olympic Games, this was the last image of Pistorius that fans and admirers ever expected to see.

Few people could also have imagined that glamorous Steenkamp would die in a pool of blood, allegedly blasted by her famous boyfriend - a Valentine's Day tragedy.

With the dust still settling on the incident, speculating on what happened would be wrong. But a look at some statistics about life in South Africa suggest gun violence is a part of daily life in there like almost nowhere else.

Nearly six million guns are currently in circulation in South Africa, with just under half of them in the hands of criminals and the others in the hands of civilians who don't trust the police to stop the crooks. In total, one person in every eight has a weapon.

Bladerunner Pistorius had two in his plush property in the Silver Woods compound, on the outskirts of Pretoria.

Gated communities like Silver Woods are common and physically divide the rich from the poor. Protecting the closed-off conurbations is an electric fence and private armies of heavily-armed security guards, on alert 24 hours a day.

Outside the safety of this complex, 50 people are killed every day by guns across the country. The gun death toll is four times higher than the United States. Only in Brazil and Mexico - which is embroiled in a near civil war between drug cartels and government forces - are more people killed by gunshot.

Oscar Pistorius at London Olympics
Oscar Pistorius at London Olympics Reuters

BBC reporter Pumza Fihlani said divisions are invisible too and that those with something to protect feel they must take matters into their own hands to do so.

"South Africa has one of the highest crime rates in the world and is considered as one of the most violent and unequal societies.

"Many here feel that the police are losing the fight against crime and those with money or valuables feel compelled to protect them at any cost," she said.

A black market in firearms is fueled by the difficulty in getting a gun licence from police. The bureaucratic procedure can take years and is heavily criticised by gun groups. Getting a gun depends on whether the constabulary thinks you need it, not how vulnerable you feel. The result is piles of black market unlicensed firearms - often in the wrong hands and fostering still further paranoia.

Beautiful Reeva Steenkamp became the latest name to be added to the grim tally of gun deaths in South Africa. By the time the sun sets on the Rainbow Nation today, she will be just one of 50 victims. The fact she died in the heavily protected home of living legend Oscar Pistorius is a stark reminder how South Africa is one land under the gun.

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