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  • 6 March 2014, 9:08

Race Issue In Shadows During Pistorius Case

Even today, 20 years after the end of apartheid, the issue of race is still a dominant part of life in South Africa and it will soon rear its head in the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius.

At first glance, racial politics might seem irrelevant in the trial of a white athlete accused of intentionally killing his white girlfriend, but it will certainly come into play - albeit in the shadows - when Pistorius begins his defence.

He claims he killed Reeva Steenkamp by mistake, convinced he was shooting through his locked toilet door at an intruder he thought was going to attack them.

:: Sky News' live coverage of the trial is under way, and a special highlights programme will be broadcast every weekday at 9.30pm.

The award-winning South African crime writer, Margie Orford, says this defence relies on the idea of a "third body" in the case.

She calls this "the imagined figure of a threatening black stranger that has driven many South Africans into fortress-like housing estates".

Ms Orford's analysis of the case paints a picture of a nation where some middle-class whites, armed with their guns and panic buttons, have failed to move on from what she calls the "pernicious" apartheid narrative of "swart gevaar" (the black peril), as justification for extreme violence.

She says it recalls the old macho attitude of "it's either us or them".

The eloquent simplicity of the author's point exposes all the lingering complexities of race in modern South Africa.

Mr Pistorius' lawyers are unlikely to mention the colour of the imagined intruder, but there will be few in the courtroom or beyond who will believe that he was thinking of someone white.

There is also little doubt he shot to kill when he fired four shots at close range through a locked toilet door.

The defence will argue that Pistorius' actions were rational and justified; the intruder may have been imaginary, but his terror was real.

The fact he lived on a highly secure estate with no record of any home invasions will likely be glossed over in favour of national statistics showing the high rates of violent crime.

Of course, the prosecution will argue that there was not even an imaginary intruder - whatever the colour - just a man intent on killing his girlfriend after a jealous row.

Their narrative will follow another grim theme of life in South Africa - the staggering level of violence against women.

Figures from the Medical Research Council show one woman dies at the hands of her partner in the country every eight hours.

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