The short story "The Moment Before The Gun Went Off" is about appearances and how they can deceive. Gordimer uses dramatic irony to offer insight into the realities of the story's central tragedy.
At the beginning of the story, she gives us a glimpse into the main character's inner dialogue. Gordimer's skillful use of the third-person omniscient viewpoint lays bare the humanity of Marais van der Vyver, the white farmer who shot Lucas (the twenty-year-old farmhand in the story). We are privy to van der Vyver's private thoughts and fears in a way that the larger society in the story isn't.
After the accident, van der Vyver struggles with grief and fear. This juxtaposition of emotions appears to be incongruent at first glance. However, Gordimer provides an explanation for it: although heartbroken by Lucas's death, van der Vyver also fears that the accident will result in retaliation against his family and other white people.
In the story, Gordimer uses the imagery of burning police stations and mobs in towns to exemplify societal strife. In addition, mentions of the lifting of the Immorality Act (which, until 1985, banned sexual relations between white and Black people in South Africa) highlight the breaking up of the status quo in van der Vyver's world. The sense of racial conflict is palpable and mirrored in Gordimer's prose.
For herself, Gordimer doesn't make judgments about the realities of van der Vyver's world. A supporter of minority rights in South Africa during her adult years, she often highlighted racial tension and the cruelty of apartheid laws in her works.
However, in this short story, she presents a twist to the often tragic stories of racial injustice—Lucas was actually van der Vyver's son and a beloved companion in the farmer's daily life. The killing was truly accidental, not malicious in nature.
The words "How could they know that they do not know. Anything." highlights another side to the terrible story of apartheid: a further fracturing of society and the loss of public trust in the ability of law enforcement to secure the rights of all citizens.