Oscar Pistorius has claimed in a court hearing that when he heard noises in his home, he mistook his girlfriend for an intruder and accidentally shot her with his 9 mm pistol.
Plausible? The courts will decide. In the meantime, the killing has highlighted South Africa's history of gun violence and high crime. And it's shown the world that many South Africans live with a palpable, almost paranoid, fear of having their homes broken into.
In the past year, more than 50% of South Africans told the country's police force that they're afraid. The number of home burglaries across the country of 50 million have more than doubled. They totaled 9,063 in a 12-month period spanning 2002/2003; seven years later, it was up 18,786. And in a similar period ending in 2012, reported break-ins dipped to 16,766, according to South Africa's crime reporting body, the Institute for Security Studies.
The international group Gunpolicy.org reports that there are about 6 million licensed firearms in South Africa.
"The paranoia about being a victim of a house robbery is understandable," said the group's small arms researcher Lauren Tracey. "Victims are relatively helpless against these attacks."
It's common to see armed guards patrolling gated, middle-class neighborhoods.
Hiring a private security firm is not the exception but the norm. Workaday people install panic buttons, closed-circuit televisions, man trap doors, boom gates and outdoor point-to-point infrared motion-sensing beams on their houses.
Also unique to South Africa: When burglars break in, they likely aren't after a flat-screen television or jewelry, experts say. They want the homeowner's guns.
That's in part because it's very hard to acquire a gun legally in South Africa, but it remains, many say, relatively easy to get a gun illegally.
A history of violence
To understand South Africa's gun culture, it's crucial to go back nearly two decades. In 1994, apartheid ended. The official system of racial segregation, in place since 1948, took rights away from black Africans and gave virtually all power in every aspect of life to whites.
For generations, violence born out of apartheid spawned a kind of arms race; blacks and whites fought against each other, and everyone else armed themselves, afraid to be caught in the cross fire.
Gun violence was at a record high as the country made its first effort to become what archbishop and peace crusader Desmond Tutu envisioned -- a rainbow nation.
Other spiritual leaders around the country began campaigning to reduce violence.
"Before 1994, there was a low-key civil war in South Africa," said Claire Taylor, a spokesperson for Gun Free South Africa, a non-profit group that grew out of a movement to cut down on crime born from years of inequity during apartheid. "Both sides -- white and blacks -- were armed soldiers in a way."
The roots of gun culture in South Africa are not unlike those of the United States, she said.
"There is a history of colonization, of taking, of settling," she said. "For black people, the AK-47 was a symbol of liberation, of fighting back. There is huge meaning attached. Gun are about fighting and superiority."
Unlike the United States, the right to own a gun is not written in the country's constitution.
Police have confiscated and destroyed hundreds of thousands of unlicensed guns, but it's unclear how many illegal guns remain on the street.
Researcher Tracey also believes that criminal violence is rooted in South Africa's historical traumas. There was rampant proliferation of firearms in the nation before the end of apartheid, and liberation movements stockpiled them.
Many of those weapons, she said, were never recovered.
Laying down the guns
As Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first black president, took office in 1994, there was a tremendous desire to put the guns down.
"There was a national feeling that we had lived under the gun for so many years during apartheid, and we had to do something to signal that beginning anew was possible," said Claire Taylor, the non-profit's spokesperson.
Taylor was personally motivated to act. At the time, one of her closest friends was shot to death during a break-in.