JOHANNESBURG – For the rich or poor, famous or unknown, violent crime is a fear in South Africa, a nation of 50 million where some 50 people are killed each day — one of the world’s highest murder rates.
But in a society that largely favours stiff penalties for criminals and has one of the world’s largest prison populations, South Africa has a mixed history when it comes to how its criminal justice system handles celebrities.
Olympian Oscar Pistorius was arrested and charged with murder for the shooting death of his 29-year-old model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. In 2009, police officers largely dropped an investigation into how the sprinter crashed a speedboat. And late last year officers in the police’s special Hawks unit intervened in an altercation Pistorius had with a millionaire over a woman. There were also claims by police that officers received calls about domestic altercations at the athlete’s home before Steenkamp’s shooting death Thursday, though they haven’t elaborated on that.
Here is a look at some other recent homicide cases that have involved celebrities in South Africa:
— Jub Jub: Molemo Maarohanye, best known by his stage name Jub Jub, was arrested after a March 8, 2010 drag race in which he and his co-accused ploughed cars into a group of schoolchildren, killing four and seriously injuring two. Many families worried the hip-hop star and Themba Tshabalala would not be convicted because of their wealth. In December, the two men were sentenced to 25 years over the killings.
— Rugby player kills police officer: In August 2010, rugby player Bees Roux was arrested after beating a police officer to death in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, after being pulled over on suspicion of drunk driving. Roux, who played for Pretoria’s Blue Bulls team and Super 14 champions the Bulls, later pleaded guilty to culpable homicide and received a five-year suspended prison sentence. Roux also agreed to pay the victim’s family 750,000 rand ($85,000) as compensation.
— Rugby hatchet killings: In April 2011, former South Africa under-21 rugby player Joseph Ntshongwana was arrested and charged with murder for allegedly hacking to death four people with an axe. Authorities said one of the bodies was decapitated. Ntshongwana, who has been diagnosed with a bipolar condition and schizophrenia, is due to appear in court again in April for his ongoing trial.
— Accidental shootings: In 2004, former Springbok rugby player Rudi Visagie awoke to the sound of his car driving away in the predawn hours. He opened fire with a handgun at the car, fatally wounding the driver — who turned out to be his 19-year-old daughter, Maryle.
After an investigation, however, prosecutors declined to press charges on what they described as “humanitarian grounds.”
AP Sports Writer Gerald Imray contributed to this report.
Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.