Oscar Pistorius family row over South Africa crime

BY: Sebastian Syme

The family of South African athlete Oscar Pistorius, who is charged with murder, has distanced itself from his father's comments that guns are needed because of high crime levels.

Henke Pistorius told the UK's Telegraph newspaper that his son needed guns because of the government's failure to protect the white community.

The governing African National Congress (ANC) said his comments were racist.

Oscar Pistorius denies murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

He says he mistook her for a burglar when he shot her dead on 14 February.

Ms Steenkamp died after he fired multiple shots into the toilet of his top floor apartment in a gated housing complex in Pretoria.

'Devoid of truth'

Oscar Pistorius was released on bail on 22 February and is due to appear in court again in June.

He is charged with the premeditated murder of Ms Steenkamp.

The Pistorius family owned 55 guns, the local Beeld newspaper reports.

"Some of the guns are for hunting and some are for protection, the hand guns. It speaks to the ANC government, look at white crime levels [sic], why protection is so poor in this country, it's an aspect of our society," The Telegraph quotes Henke Pistorius as saying.

The family was "deeply concerned" about his comments, the family's publicist said in a statement, AFP news agency reports.

Family spokesman Arnold Pistorius said "the Pistorius family own weapons purely for sport and hunting purposes", it reports.

"The comments doesn't [sic] represent the views of Oscar or the rest of the Pistorius family," he is quoted as saying.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said the party "rejects with contempt" Henke Pistorius's claim that the government was not willing to protect white people.

"Not only is this statement devoid of truth, it is also racist. It is sad that he has chosen to politicize a tragic incident that is still fresh in the minds of those affected and the public," he said.

The ANC welcomed the family's decision to distance itself from the comments, Mr Mthembu added.

"We call on South Africans to desist from wild and prejudiced speculation," he said.

"Let us give our courts a chance to deal with this matter."

BBC South African analyst Farouk Chothia says many white people led a sheltered life during apartheid, when a highly militarised police force carried out regular patrols in their areas and kept crime rates low.

After apartheid ended, the government moved some policing resources from mainly white to mainly black areas, causing some white people to feel more vulnerable to crime, our correspondent says.

Official police statistics show that serious crime has fallen in South Africa by 31.8% from 2004/5 to 2011/12, with the murder rate down by 27.6%.

In September 2011, Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa said the number of murders each year had dropped to 15,940, from more than 27,000 in 1995/96.