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Thursday 18 September 2014

'I knew my life was in danger exactly the way Reeva's was': South African gun abuse victim tells her story

Published 06/05/2014 | 11:51

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On the same day Oscar Pistorius shot Reeva Steenkamp, young mother Astheera Jagessar reported her boyfriend for holding a handgun to her forehead after she spoke to another man.

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It all started when an electrician arrived at her boyfriend's house when she was alone there. She wasn't sure why he turned up, so she called her partner and told him to come home. When he arrived back after having a few drinks, he was furious and jealous that Astheera was speaking to a stranger and argued with her for inviting them to his home.

When Astheera tried to leave, the man went to him drawer, pulled out a handgun and pressed it against her forehead.

"I was just in shock. You never imagine you could be in that situation facing the barrel of a gun. I was stunned," she said.

"It took me a while to figure out what was going on and whether my life was in danger and it was."

Astheera told him to take the gun away from her head, which he did after a few minutes. Immediately, his temperament changed.

"He changed from someone who was threatening my life to a doll asking can he make me a cup of coffee.

"As soon as he put the firearm to my head, I knew he was capable of pulling the trigger, because he was extremely angry at that point."

Her boyfriend's gun was taken off of him and they separated not long after the incident. Despite what happened, Astheera has forgiven him.

"I don't hold it against him," she said, but she still has fears he could return.

"In a fit of rage, after a few drinks, he could very well walk into my home, shoot me and my two children and turn the gun on himself and he would be capable of doing that."

There are around 1.6 million people in South Africa with gun licences carrying a total of 2.2 million guns, used for hunting, collections and self defence. Since South Africa’s Firearms Control Act was passed, the country's gun death rate has halved from 34 people shot a day in 1998, to 18 in 2009.

Chairman for the South African Gun Owners' Association John Welch said it's hard to legally get your hands on a firearm, which usually takes around 90 days.

"I don't know how difficult or easy it is to get a gun illegally, but currently it's quite difficult to get one legally," he said.

To legally obtain a gun, one must pass a proficiency test on an accredited firing range, as well as a written test on the law and theoretics of gun ownership. After that application is made and passed by the police, a person chooses which type of gun they want and for what purpose.

The only time a person should ever touch the trigger of a gun is if they are prepared to shoot, Mr Welch said.

"You do not shoot at any target you have not identified, The information that we currently have [from the Pistorius case] is that the deceased was behind a closed door that he allegedly fired the shots at. The bullets penetrated the door and then they hit Ms Steenkamp.

"One of the rules of self defence in South Africa is that there must have been an unlawful and violent attack upon you. Now how do you know if there is an unlawful and violent attack upon you if you cannot see the target. If you cannot see a threat."

According to Claire Taylor of Gun Free South Africa, the death of Reeva Steenkamp is both unique and not unique in terms of gun deaths.

"Apart from being celebrities, Reeva and Oscar’s story is not unique. A man legally buys a gun to protect himself and those he loves from a stranger intruder. Instead he uses his licensed gun to kill the person he loves. Women are most at risk for being shot and killed in their homes by someone they know with a legal gun. 18 people a day are shot and killed in South Africa," she said.

"Most South Africans do not live in gated communities with 24 hour security and with a handgun for self-defence."

First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent
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