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AN OLD pine chair saved

Clara Meyer. It caught

the bullet her constable

son-in-law Carl Sharnick

had intended for the

back of her head, sending

the bullet ricocheting

into the checked linoleum kitchen floor

just inches from where she lay wounded

after his first attempt to kill her.

The rest of her family was not so lucky.

As Clara silently prayed,
Please

Master, Im not ready. Im not going todie

m not ready. Im not going todie…”, her only daughter Mesadie was

breathing her last. She lay crumpled on

the floor of her mother
s bedroom, felledby three shots from her husband Carls

service pistol, her baby daughter still

warm and naked from her evening bath,

crying on the blood-soaked carpet.

Clara couldn
t see him but at that

moment her husband Tom, severely

wounded by Carl
s first three shots as he

stormed into the house, was crawling into

the yard in search of help. Presuming

Clara dead, the young policeman stepped

past her body and took aim at his fatherin-

law once more. She heard five quick

shots, a pause, and then another as Carl

turned the gun on himself.

Maybe its a good thing. If he hadnt

killed himself, the community would

have,
says Clara who, six months later, is

still trying to make sense of what happened

that evening at the end of January.

Carl
s murder-suicide in the workingclass

suburb of Groenheuwel in Paarl was

one of hundreds recorded in SA each year.

The country has one of the highest rates of

femicide-suicide in the world, with a disproportionate

number occurring in police

families, says the Medical Research

Council. A recent study by the council

found that in 1999 more than 260 males

older than 14 killed their wife or girlfriend

and then themselves, equivalent to a rate

of 2,1 men in 100 000. By contrast,

homicide-suicide rates in the US are

estimated at between 0,2 and 0,4 in

100 000 people, 95% of them c o m m i tt e d

by men, according to a paper by the

Centres for Disease Control published in

the British Medical Journal last year.

In SA, almost 60% of femicide-suicides

were committed by men working in the

police force, security industr y or armed

forces, says the study
s lead author,

Shanaaz Mathews.

Women in relationships with men in

these professions are at significantly

increased risk of being murdered,

compared with women involved with men

in other jobs, her research has shown.

In the past 12 months, there have been

at least half a dozen family murdersuicides

involving policemen in Wes tern

Cape alone. At least a dozen others were

reported in other provinces. In almost

every case, the couple had relationship

difficulties and in all but one incident the

weapon of choice was a gun.

Police s p o ke s man Selby Bokaba

declined to provide official figures on the

number of murder-suicides committed by

officers, saying such information was for

internal consumptiononly.

There is limited research on the

phenomenon but experts suggest the high

family murder-suicide rate among the

South African police is caused by a

complex interplay between personality,

childhood experiences, exposure to trauma,

stress and ready access to weapons.

Police officers are at the frontline of

efforts to combat crime, a war that in

many communities they seem to be losing.

While the most recent official figures

show many categories of crime have fallen

in Paarl-East, the area patrolled by Carl

and his colleagues, the numbers still paint

a picture of a terribly violent society: 26

murders, 56 rapes and 40 indecent

assaults, 367 residential burglaries, and

587 assaults in the year to March.

Experts suggest cops
frustration at the

limited inroads they make against crime

contributes to their sense of despair.

Family murders happen when a personhas lost hope,says Dr Roland Graser,

author of a book on South African family

murders. Although few police officers get

adequate psychological support to deal

with the fear and violence they encounter

on duty, this alone does not explain why so

many family murders are committed by

cops, he says.

The nature of police culture with its

with itscowboys dont crymentality, rules of

behaviour that conflict with those society

considers acceptable (such as killing a

suspect), and emphasis on physical toughness

means officers are unlikely to

express their anger, fear and frustration at

work, argues Graser. Instead, cops take

their worries home and vent their aggression

on those they say they love most

wives, girlfriends and children.

Ironically, these close r e l at i o n s h i p s

become a source of intense stress, setting

up a vicious cycle in which work and home

anxieties amplify each other. Often, when

women try to end the relationship, the

response is extreme.
Women are often

not regarded by South African men as

par tners but as possessions. When women

try to leave, the response is often,
If I canthave you, no one else can,’” says Graser.

Relationship difficulties helped drive

Carl to breaking point. Two

weeks before the shooting,

Mesadie confronted him about

his all-night partying and frequent

absences, her friends say.

Ek is toe gisteraand uitgesit (I

was chucked out last night),

says an SMS she sent a close

friend, who asked not to be

named, the day after a blazing

midnight row about the increasing

distance between the highschool

sweethearts. She took

their three children
aged 10,five and two and returned to

her childhood home.

Her parents had, for years,

helped support the young

couple, giving them a place to

stay when they were newlyweds

and later helping to clothe and

feed the children, says the

friend, suggesting this financial

dependence was an increasing

source of tension. Clara is a

long- serving member of the

Democratic Alliance and manages

the Drakenstein municipality

s housing portfolio.

Ten days after the fight, Carl

turned up at the company where

Mesadie worked, seeking reconciliation.

Colleagues say she

went outside to speak to him

and returned crying, saying he

had threatened to kill her

parents if she did not return to

their flat in Charlestonville

Hills. According to Clara, she

told her friends she would not

go back, dead or alive.

dead or alive.I knew she must have had a

hell of a life when I heard t h at ,

says Clara, shaking her head.

Carl was a reserved man,

who revealed little of what was

on his mind, she says.
He was a

quiet man; he only talked when

he had the drink in him.

Police stickers still mark the

bullet holes in the bedroom

ceiling in her modest home. She

moved the front door to the side

of the house after the accident

the accident

and built a small wall on top of

the kitchen counter so that

when she sits at the kitchen

table, she cannot see the spot

where her husband was shot.

Carl
s father Colin declined

to be interviewed as he was deep

in mourning for his wife, who

recently died of natural causes,

saying only that his son was a

good man whose family meant

everything to him.

The young constable joined

the Paarl-East police station

when he finished his basic

training in 2002 and showed no

signs of stress, says Western

Cape police spokesman Billy

Jones. No complaints were filed

against him and no disciplinary

measures instituted.

He never took extended sick

l e av e and never requested or

displayed a need for psychological

counselling, says Jones. If

Carl was struggling with work

issues, he hid his problems from

his superiors. Clara is unsure

about whether the police can be

blamed for Carls actions.

s actions.You see,my father was also a

policeman, in the old apartheid

days, and they had to work long

shifts under very strained

circ umstances.
And you didnt

hear about the policeman that

was shooting his wife, or his

father, or his mother-in-law.

Why did he do what he have

done? If he had only spoken to

me. But he didnt …”

t …”