Last night I went to bed with the news that Oscar Pistorius had received 5 years for his killing of Reeva Steenkamp.
This morning, I woke up to the news that there was outrage.
Hell, I was outraged.
He had killed someone – he should be jailed and the key should have been thrown away.
People said that it is because he is an olympian that he got away with murder.
Here’s the thing.
It is because he is an olympian that he is doing time for Reeva’s killing.
In South Africa the legal system is so corrupt, so badly managed, so awfully controlled that people get away with murder. Every. Single. Day.
How do I know? I grew up there.
I have family and friends who have been held up at gun point, their lives almost snuffed out with a twitchy finger. I have friends who have been killed for nothing more than their mobile phone. None of their attackers have been brought to justice.
There is not a South African around the world who hasn’t been touched by crime and violence, and the majority of them will tell you that there was no justice metred out.
In 1995, I was robbed. I was in the house at the time, and my then 3 year old daughter slept in her bed. I was a single mum. I woke up at 6am to find my room had been ransacked, my house had been pillaged. Clothes and furniture were strewn everywhere.
I called the police and the insurance company.
The police came out and the insurance company refused to acknowledge the claim because I had not put on my alarm. The police kept telling me how lucky I was to be alive. The claim didn’t matter, I had my life, I was told. I was lucky that I hadn’t woken as it is almost certain I would have been killed if I had.
A few months later, I was called to appear in court. The police had found some of my belongings in a man’s house. The finger prints on those belongings matched the ones taken at my house.
The reason I was to appear in court was that in the South African legal system, the accused gets the opportunity to cross examine the victim.
On the day of the court case, I was a nervous wreck. The prosecutor, whom I had never met before, came out to me whilst I was waiting on the bench.
“Only answer the questions I ask you,” she said, “And try not to give too much information to the accused.”
What the fuck did that mean?
I got up onto the pulpit. The man, the one who had ransacked my house whilst my child and I slept, stared at me. He was Zulu and needed an interpreter.
“How do you know it was me that robbed your house.”
In reality, I didn’t know it was him. I had been told it was him, that his finger prints were everywhere and that he had been found with items that belonged to me. I felt sick. Why was I even there? Why was I being forced to face a man who knew where I lived?
It transpires that the finger prints in my house were not conclusive enough evidence to categorically prove that he was the one who had stolen my belongings. Apparently he hadn’t been finger printed properly. He was released. And I lived in fear until I moved towns.
Such is the legal system in South Africa.
There is a program called Carte Blanche in South Africa. It is a sort of expose program. They broke the news of how workers in the postal system were stealing thousands of items that came into the sorting plant. Someone went under cover and filmed people just helping themselves to whatever they wanted. We all sat glued to our screens as postal workers tore open item after item, pocketing whatever they found. Some even wore items of clothing they stole, not even hiding what they had done. It came off the back of people complaining that goods were not being received by recipients, that you were more likely to not receive something than you were to actually get it.
The footage was given to the authorities. The postal workers union stepped in and said that it was entrapment. Every single worker caught stealing on camera got off scot free. Not only that, not one of them lost their job.
Such is the legal system in South Africa.
It is because Oscar Pistorius was an olympian, an extremely high profile celebrity that some sort of justice was proffered. Because of his super star status there was no way the laissez faire legal system could turn a blind eye.
Getting to court, the prosecution was unable to prove without a shadow of a doubt that he had intended to do it.
My personal belief is that he is a violent man that got into a rage which resulted him in shooting his girlfriend. A classic story of domestic violence. But the reality is that it couldn’t be proven. It was, in fact, the prosecution that had let Reeva and her family down. Throughout the LA Law-esque court case unreliable witnesses and a showman prosecutor failed to prove a thing.
And Pistorius’ defence team knew that crime and violence is so rife in South Africa that everyone lives on high alert all the time. That he suspected an intruder, one that wouldn’t think twice about killing him first, was totally plausible.
The only alternative was to give a verdict of culpable homicide – acknowledging the fact that someone had died, but also acknowledging that Pistorius may not have meant to kill her.
I applaud the judge, Thokozile Masipa, for her courage to hand down the maximum sentence she was able to give for this crime. I applaud her for standing up to the defence team social worker who tried to imply that Pistorius would be in danger in jail because he was not ‘normal’. It was a ludicrous argument considering he had fought so hard for the right to compete with able-bodied people in the olympics. Why should he not join able-bodied criminals in jail serving time for the same crime?
And so it he is going to jail for five years. And believe me when I say that it is because he is an olympian that the Steenkamp’s have seen some justice today.
Until next time,