11 Mar 2014

One law for the rich? Life for South Africa’s elite

The testimony of Oscar Pistorius’s friend gave a glimpse into the life of the rich, white and famous in South Africa: one of fast cars, beautiful girls – and a passion for guns.

A cursory glance at Darren Fresco’s Twitter bio provides an insight into his philosophy about life, writes South African Journalist Debora Patta. “If it’s got wheels or a skirt, it’s gonna cost you money.” Charming stuff.

Mr Fresco is the man whom Oscar Pistorius enjoyed a bromance with. The pair had much in common – fast cars, beautiful women and a passion for guns.

Mr Fresco was up in the witness stand today, testifying against his friend. His evidence provided an embarrassing insight into rich, famous, white privilege in South Africa. Although “friend” may be a moot point as Pistorius did not appear to look happy with his testimony.

Sporting a hairstyle similar to the Italian model Fabio – the kind that went out of fashion a decade or more ago – he brashly told the court about two incidents involving Pistorius and the alleged reckless discharging of a firearm.

Click here for all the Channel 4 News video and analysis on the Pistorius trial.

Fast cars and beautiful women

In the first, Mr Fresco, Pistorius and Pistorius’ ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor were pulled over for speeding by traffic police – (according to the defence they were driving at 260kph or 160 mph) – and the officers noticed a loaded firearm on Pistorius’s seat. They picked it up, took out the bullets and then sent them off on their merry way with a traffic fine and a reprimand.

Mr Fresco told the court that Pistorius was furious and a little later without warning shot his gun through the open sun roof of the car. And in what may be the quote of the trial so far, Mr Fresco shouted “Are you f****** mad?” According to his friend, Pistorius just laughed.

Then again in a separate incident in a crowded restaurant, these grown men were passing weapons under the table to each other. Mr Fresco said he passed Pistorius a loaded gun and he accidentally discharged it. What happened? Not an awful lot.

Pistorius, according to Mr Fresco, asked his friend to take the rap for him which he happily did. And last week one of the restaurant owners testified that she lectured the men and slapped Fresco on the head for being an idiot.

Photo: Oscar Pistorius surrounded by the world’s media as he leaves the courtroom in Pretoria

White, rich and famous

Astonishingly nobody in that restaurant thought to call the police. And the police themselves pulled over a speeding car with a loaded firearm in it and did nothing more than send them off with a ticket and a warning.

Apart from the details of this particular case, it certainly throws up many of the more unpleasant aspects of South African life. If you are white and rich (and add famous to the mix) it would seem you can disrespect the law and the law itself will look the other way with nothing more than a wink and a nod.

In fact, in another memorable moment Mr Fresco was asked what he did with his traffic fine: “I crumpled it up,” he said, and then later: “what did you expect me to do with the ticket”.

And as for gun control: it doesn’t need a conclusion to this case for authorities to realise it is poorly managed in South Africa. Every eight hours a woman is murdered by her intimate partner in South Africa: that means that nearly 60 per cent of all women killed in this country are killed by their partners (it even has a name “intimate femicide”). Many of those killings are from gunshot wounds.

Already the Oscar Pistorius case has thrown up sharp discrepancies in the treatment of other murder victims. The judge for a time banned live tweeting and film and audio streaming of evidence about the injuries Reeva Steenkamp sustained after being shot and killed by her boyfriend.

Judge Thokozile Masipa agreed with the pathologist that it would undermine the deceased’s dignity to have real-time reporting of these most intimate of details.

But in the cases of poor black South Africans (think gang-rape and murder victim Anene Booysens and the Marikana miners), no such dignity was afforded.

If South Africa wishes to dispel its image as a lawless country where only the privileged few enjoy rights, then police need to start doing their job – and courts need to ensure rights are applied equally.