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Gun Crime in South Africa; More Uprisings in Ukraine; Imagine a World

Aired April 8, 2014 - 14:00:00   ET


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN HOST: Good evening and welcome to the program. I'm Fred Pleitgen, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.

"Take your guns, your knives and throw them into the sea," Nelson Mandela said these words in 1990, knowing full well that widespread gun ownership would be a threat to South Africa's delicate social fabric.

Oscar Pistorius found out the hard way the dangers of relying on firearms for personal protection when he shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, last year.

Whether it was coldblooded murder or a tragic accident as Pistorius claims in an emotional testimony, he told the court today that he used his weapon thinking an intruder was in his home.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What time did you eat?

OSCAR PISTORIUS, ATHLETE: 7:00 pm. We sat at the dining room table for a while and we chatted about my day and we chatted about Reeva's. And then usually after dinner, we would have watched TV downstairs but I think we both had a taxing day. And so we decided to go upstairs.

I opened the balcony doors. It was a very humid evening. Reeva was -- Reeva was still awake because she was obviously not sleeping. She rolled over to me and she said, "Can't you sleep, my Baba?"

And I said, no, I can't tonight. I thought that there was a burglar that was gaining entry to my home. I think initially I just froze. I didn't really know what to do. I had heard this noise. I wasn't sure if somebody was coming into the bathroom. The first thing that ran through my mind was that I needed to arm myself, that I need to protect Reeva and I, that I needed to get my gun.

Before I knew it, I had fired four shots at the door. My ears were ringing. I couldn't hear anything, so I shouted. I kept on shouting for Reeva to phone the police. At this point, I was mixed with emotions. I didn't want to believe that it could be Reeva inside the toilet. I was so scared that maybe somebody was coming in to attack me or us and at that point all I wanted to do was just look inside to see if it was Reeva. And I sat over Reeva and I cried. And I don't know, I don't know, a long -- I don't know how long I sat for.





PLEITGEN: Now when we evaluate South Africa's gun culture, the first comparison that comes to mind is the United States with its history of citizens taking up arms to protect themselves. So let's make that comparison.

Legal gun ownership in South Africa is much lower. There are less than 13 guns per 100 people there, while in the U.S., it's a massive 89 firearms per 100. But even so, gun homicide rates are much higher in South Africa, just over 17 per 100,000 people compared to the U.S. rate of just three per 100,000.

So why is gun crime so rampant in South Africa? Adele Kirsten is the spokeswoman and former director of Guns Free South Africa and she joins me now from Oxford here in England.

Madam, thank you very much for being on the program. And I have to go back to Oscar Pistorius who said in his testimony today that even though he lived in a very affluent area, he felt that he was under threat and he needed firearms by his side all the time.

How widespread is that kind of thinking in South Africa?

ADELE KIRSTEN, GUN FREE SOUTH AFRICA: Many South Africans don't feel safe. But Pistorius is unique in the sense that most South Africans do not live in gated communities with 24-hour security and security responses.

So the data also shows that having a gun in your home puts everyone at risk.

PLEITGEN: So it puts everyone at risk, but clearly, you can understand the people who get guns to try and protect themselves. I want to fun some stats past you that we've gathered here: 720 household burglaries per day in South Africa, 166 cases of street and public robbery per day, 28 vehicle hijackings per day.

You can sort of understand why people feel they need to arm themselves, can't you?

KIRSTEN: Sure. I mean, South Africa posts one of the highest homicide rates in the world with just over 50 per 100,000 murders annually. And we share that stat with countries like Venezuela, Jamaica, El Salvador. But the reality is that the majority of South Africans are not armed. So the majority of South Africans go about their daily business without having guns because the evidence shows that having a gun in your home in particular is a risk for everyone. And by that, what the data shows, both in South Africa and elsewhere in the world is that you are much more likely to have the gun taken off you and used against you. But there are also things like intimate partner violence where a man who has a legal gun kills or intimidates or threatens his intimate partner. There are things like suicide, particularly amongst teenagers, accidental discharge where young children get hold of a gun. And importantly, in the South African context, given our high levels of crime, the major source of illegal weapons in South Africa are loss and theft from civilian gun owners.

So all the evidence points that having a gun in your home is not an effective means of self-defense.

PLEITGEN: The interesting thing is it's quite difficult to get a gun legally in South Africa.

How hard is it to get one illegally?

KIRSTEN: Well, the main sources of illegal weapons in South Africa are loss and theft from civilians and then leakage from state armories, like the military, corruption with police officers and then some cross- border trade.

But estimate -- and of course, given the nature of illegal gun trafficking, it's really hard to know the exact number. But it's estimated that there are between 1 million to 2 million illegal weapons in circulation.

PLEITGEN: The interesting thing is always that gun culture in every country is always a product of that country's history. We see that in America and certainly we see that in South Africa as well.

To what extent is a product of the apartheid past and what do guns mean to blacks and what do guns mean to whites?

KIRSTEN: Gosh, a lot of important things there. It's absolutely a product of both our colonial and our apartheid past. So also a settler society, where guns, a strong attachment to guns, where guns were used to dispossess the land from indigenous people and subjugate local people.

But more recently in terms of apartheid, it isn't just the use of force by police, but it was the structural violence and structural nature of the violence in South Africa during apartheid which continues in many ways today.

I think, again, global data shows that countries with high levels of inequality are countries which experience higher levels of criminal violence and also particularly higher levels of gun violence.

Now under the apartheid arms and ammunition act legislation, black people were prohibited from owning licensed weapons. It was as much of the legislation during that time reserved for whites. But that started relaxing during the late '80s mainly to facilitate gun ownership for black police officers.

One of the interesting things that has happened in South Africa is that the owning of a firearm, a legal firearm, has been seen as one way in which black South Africans exercise their citizenship rights. And it's because it was denied in the past.

But the numbers still seem to indicate that the majority of licensed gun holders are men and usually white men. And of course, guns are also used for sports and leisure activities and for hunting.

So definitely there are -- you know, it's highly racialized; gun ownership, the use of guns, but also who the victims are. It's usually young men between the age of 18 and 29 who are the primary victims of gun violence. And I guess that's where if we look at the Pistorius case, that they are some -- that case fits the profile in the sense that Pistorius is a young man. He's a gun owner. He used his gun to murder someone which he has admitted himself, irrespective of the reason.

But one of the patterns of gun violence, not just in South Africa, but across the world, is that although women generally are not victims of gun violence, they are particularly vulnerable in their home to be shot and killed by a man intimate, known to them, usually with a legal gun.

PLEITGEN: Adele Kirsten, thank you very much for being on the program.

And while South Africa and much of the world is riveted by the Pistorius trial, the crisis in Ukraine has neighboring nations on edge and on military alert. One of those keeping close watch is Poland's foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski. We'll get the view from Warsaw when we come back.




PLEITGEN: Welcome back. I'm Fred Pleitgen, in tonight for Christiane Amanpour.

Tensions are ratcheting up inside Ukraine and the world is on the edge. Here's exhibit A. In Kiev, members of parliament literally battled it out with pro-Russia Communists and far right Nationalists trading punches in the chamber. Take a look at that.

This happened shortly after the government rounded up 70 people in what it calls an anti-terrorist operation in Kharkov, sending troops to clear official buildings taken over by pro-Russian protesters. Government buildings in other eastern cities are still occupied and Russia, for its part, accuses Ukraine of risking, quote, "the outbreak of civil war," whereas the U.S. says the Russians are the ones who are agitating.

One nation closely watching events is Poland and I'm joined now by Poland's foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski.

Foreign Minister, thank you for joining the program. And the first question has to be clear, we've seen sanctions in the past. We've seen limited sanctions against Vladimir Putin's inner circle. Clearly it's not having any sort of effect on the Russians.

What next? How can you up the ante?

RADOSLAW SIKORSKI, POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER: Well, what's happening in Ukraine is unacceptable, a more powerful nation is first taking problems away from a less powerful country. And now financing subversion, using the pretext of ethnic problems, which are non- existent, you know, both in Crimea and in East Ukraine, everybody speaks Russia. The media are Russian. And until now, there were no ethnic problems there.

And of course there are acceptable ways of dealing with ethnic issues through Council of Europe Conventions, OSC and so on. So this kind of subversion is unacceptable. And we have to think about what to do about it. We've, both in Europe and in the United States, announced that if Russia moves it entirely into Ukraine, we will go to stage three, which means economic sanctions.

But I understand that the United States is considering some sanctions in response to this subversion as well. And traditionally what happens is that the U.S. goes first and then the European Union follows.

PLEITGEN: Yes, absolutely right. The U.S. does seem to be leading the way again on this. As you said, they're talking about targeted sanctions against important Russian industrial sectors. The financial sector as well as the energy sector, of course, being the two key sectors.

I want you to listen in to an exchange between Secretary of State John Kerry and John McCain that happened earlier today on how tough approach it would be. And then I'd like you to comment on it if possible.


JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: What I do know is that we are sending a signal today of the clarity of our intention to use whatever sanction is necessary if they continue.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZ.: On the issue of Ukraine, my hero, Teddy Roosevelt, used to say, "Talk softly but carry a big stick."

What you're doing is talking strongly and carrying a very small stick. In fact, a twig.


PLEITGEN: Is John McCain right? Is Europe -- is America, are they carrying a twig instead of a big stick?

SIKORSKI: I hugely respect Senator McCain. But of course one can be easier with one's words when one is in the legislative branch rather than us in the executive branch being responsible for the policy.

Look, it will be best if Russia just started talking to the Ukrainian government, which is democratically elected. The two countries have important interests at stake, including economic interests. You know, Russia can't launch its space rockets without Ukraine. And President Putin, in his annexation speech, said that Ukrainians are a brotherly nation.

Well, if they are, they should be collaborating and then the issue of sanctions wouldn't arise.

But also remember that Poland and the United States trade in cash terms about as much with Russia. But of course this is a much bigger part of our economy. And this goes for the E.U. as a whole, which I think explains part of Europe's reluctance.

So American leadership on this is understandable.

PLEITGEN: Are you happy with Europe's response so far? Or do you think things should be tougher?

I mean, Poland is a nation that's historically has suffered a lot under the Soviet Union. I mean, there's a lot of Poles who are quite afraid of the situation right now.

SIKORSKI: Well, not just the Soviet Union; we were partitioned by Russia in the 18th century, literally our country was occupied. And this was also done on the pretexts of protecting national minorities. Russia always comes to the assistance of national minorities rather than invading.

So it's an old story. It's like watching an opera whose libretto is known in advance. And it's completely unacceptable because in Europe, there isn't a country that doesn't have national minorities. And if we started changing borders on the pretext of protecting them, we would be back to the hell of the 20th century. And that's why everybody feels so threatened by what President Putin has just done.

PLEITGEN: I want to go back to one of the things you said. You said that the government in Ukraine, in Kiev, is democratically elected. That of course is something that the Russians dispute. They say all of this was a coup and they also say that everything that the new Ukrainian government has done has done nothing but alienate the Russians who are living in Ukraine.

And one of the things that's certainly true is that while there might not be a real threat to the Russians in Eastern Ukraine, there is certainly a perceived threat. There are many, especially older Russians, who are very afraid of what's going on in this country right now.

What do you think the government in Kiev needs to do different to deescalate the situation for its part and show these people that they are part of this country?

SIKORSKI: Well, look the parliament of Ukraine was democratically elected. Everybody said so, including the Russians. And the democratically elected parliament has appointed a government with a two- thirds of votes. And this elected government invited into the coalition the Party of Regents, which represents Eastern Ukraine. The Party of Regents refused.

So it's a government which is preparing a presidential election in which, for example, the leading contender was a minister under Yanukovych, is a former member of the Party of Regents and is a sort of conciliatory figure.

So I don't think there is any need to castigate or to denounce this Ukrainian government. Moreover, when we negotiated the agreement between President Yanukovych and the opposition with the participation of a personal representative of President Putin, we had all agreed that Arseniy Yatsenyuk would become prime minister. This was seen as obvious also by Russia.

So this is a government that the Russians should be able to do business with. And they have very important business to do. They need to negotiate a fair price for gas so that Ukraine can start filling up its huge storage of gas so that parts of Europe may be supplied with gas next winter. This is very important.

There is absolutely no reason not to help this Ukrainian government start implementing reforms, implementing the IMF agreement and getting the commercial relationship with --


PLEITGEN: Sir, if I could -- if I could just interject there, what about integrating the Russians better into what is Ukraine right now, showing them that Ukraine is also their home, that Ukraine wants to look to Russia as much as it looks to Europe and deescalating the situation that way? Because there are many Russian Ukrainians who say that they do feel Ukrainian but they also distrust the current leadership.

And so far, very few of the politicians who are now in power in Kiev have actually gone to the east and spoken to these people.

SIKORSKI: Oh, there are things that the Ukrainian government can do. And the attempts never materialized to change the language, was unfortunate. But as I say, there are a Council of Europe Conventions on national minorities, on regional languages. And I'm sure the -- and I know that in the new constitution these guarantees for Russian speakers is something that can be included.

PLEITGEN: Foreign Minister Sikorski, thank you very much for being on the program tonight.

SIKORSKI: Thank you.

PLEITGEN: And as Ukraine and Russia play out an ancient feud dating back 1,000 years, they might look to another ancient grudge, this one between Britain and Ireland as an example of conflict resolution.

Irish President Michael Higgins was welcomed today by Queen Elizabeth at Windsor Castle, marking the first state visit to the U.K. of an Irish head of state. It was another step toward reconciliation two years after the Queen's visit to Belfast, Northern Ireland. There she shook the hand of Martin McGinnis, a former IRA commander, now Northern Ireland's deputy first minister.

And while many in Ireland refuse to forgive or to forget, Mr. Higgins carried his message of friendship to London, becoming the first Irish president to address the Houses of British Parliament in the Palace of Westminster.

And after the break, we'll turn to another scene of civil strife, Syria, where there's no sanctuary, not even in the house of God. The making of a martyr, when we come back.



PLEITGEN: And a final thought tonight, after three years of civil war, it's hard to grasp the death toll in Syria. More than 150,000 killed. Do we really understand the magnitude of that number?

Now imagine a world where one among the many deaths brings home the horror and the waste. CNN's Arwa Damon reports on the life and death of Father Frans van der Lugt, a Dutch Jesuit priest martyred in the cause of peace. Beware, though, some of the images are disturbing.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Father Frans van der Lugt loved Syria, a country he called home for decades, a people he did not want to abandon.

"We don't want to drown in an ocean of hunger, pain and death," Father Frans implored from the altar of his church, where both Muslims and Christians sought sanctuary.

By the summer of 2012, Old Homs was under intense bombardment and siege.

"Sometimes we eat a soup of cracked wheat. These are the olives we eat in the morning, and sometimes at night," the 75-year-old Dutch Jesuit priest points to the remaining meager supplies in his monastery.

"The people suffer" -- his own.

In February, the U.N. brokered a brief cease-fire, allowing some civilians to evacuate. But Father Frans stayed, refusing to leave anyone behind.

On Monday, a known gunman stormed into his monastery, killing Father Frans with a single shot to the head. He had begged the world on behalf of the suffering of Syrians, "We love life. We want to live." But no one listened -- Arwa Damon, CNN, Beirut.


PLEITGEN: A Jesuit like Pope Francis, Father van der Lugt was lauded by the Vatican as a man of peace and courage.

Meantime, Father Paolo Dall'Oglio, another Jesuit priest who also dedicated his life to the cause of peace in Syria, has been missing since last summer.

That's it for our program tonight. And remember you can always contact us at our website,, and you can follow me on Twitter @FPleitgenCNN. Thank you for watching and goodnight from London.