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Why the Media is Murdering South Africa's Image......

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REEVA STEENKAMP OSCAR PISTORIUS
AP

Anyone who has been following the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing over the last few days could be forgiven for thinking that South Africa is the new Wild West, full of gun-toting, trigger-happy outlaws.

First we hear the shocking story of the world-renowned athlete and the pistol by his bed in his luxury Pretoria home (part of a gated community with 24 hour security).

Then the chief police investigator, Hilton Botha, is removed to face charges of attempted murder after he allegedly shot at a vehicle with seven passengers. Finally, in the latest twist, it has emerged that Carl Pistorius, (Oscar's brother) is himself about to stand trial for the death of a woman in 2008. All this in just one family and one case. A typical example of what South Africans put up with day-to-day? No, of course not.

Without doubt, this case has caught the public's imagination. It has all the ingredients of a bestseller or box office smash. The brave Olympic athlete who overcame so many obstacles and his model girlfriend. Their doomed love. On any level this is heartbreaking but what we need to leave behind is the belief, created by a bloodthirsty media on the scent of an emotive story, that this all happened against the backdrop of the most violent country in the world. Quite simply it isn't.

The United States has the highest rate of private gun ownership globally, while South Africa ranks only 50th. When it comes to gun-related homicide, South Africa comes in at no.12 with many South American and Caribbean countries such as Venezuela, Colombia, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador significantly ranking way above it.

Holiday destinations such as Jamaica are much higher up the list. Even the location for the 2016 Olympics and the next FIFA World Cup, Brazil, a country comparable in many ways for the gap between rich and poor in society, is above South Africa in this table.

I have visited this beautiful country roughly ten times and travelled from the tropical heat of the KwaZulu-Natal, to the urban excitement of Johannesburg. From the stunning beaches of the Cape to experiencing sunsets on safari. It's unbeatable.

Apparently tourists think so as well with numbers entering the country rising steadily year on year. From January to October 2012, seven and a half million people visited South Africa. That's up ten percent on the same period for the previous year. Clearly something is attracting these visitors and it's not the likelihood of getting carjacked.

In the midst of this media frenzy of blame centred on the 'paranoid' South African society and its unhealthy love of guns, the simple fact is that for many people in South Africa this isn't their reality.

They are well aware that for good reason crime is high but also aware that it is often confined to particular areas and particular social contexts. They live sensibly but well in one of the most culturally and geographically diverse and blessed nations on earth.

So don't be put off travelling to this incredible destination and don't be fooled by the media reports. The bark of the newshound is worse than its bite.

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