Eighteen months ago, Oscar Pistorius was transformed from a role model, defined by his iconic Paralympian status, to a celebrity figure charged with the murder of his partner, Reeva Steenkamp. Steenkamp was shot in the hip, elbow and head after Pistorius fired four shots through the door of their bathroom, allegedly believing there was an intruder in his house. Much debate shrouded the live broadcast of the trial, with all audio and selected video available for public viewing. Last week Pistorius was found not guilty of both premeditated murder and murder, as a result of insubstantial evidence. He was instead convicted of culpable homicide, which is the equivalent of manslaughter in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This judgement naturally raises questions about the extent to which justice has been served, and whether this verdict is symbolic of wider trends of misogyny and corruption in South Africa.
South Africa certainly has an uninspiring track record with regards to its treatment of women: rates of violence against women are the highest in the world, experts estimate that there is an instance of rape every four minutes and more than 30 per cent of girls have been raped by the time they turn 18. The chilling reality is that Steenkamp was only one of three women killed by an intimate partner that day. Whilst it is true that fewer than one out of seven murder victims in South Africa is female, this means very little in the crime capital of the world. The other six victims in this statistic are largely men killed at the hands of other men.
The Pistorius trial has highlighted South Africa’s epidemic of violence, both domestic and otherwise.Although the nation’s rich white inhabitants might like to think that this violence is confined to poor, black areas, this is simply not the case. Reeva Steenkamp’s killing occurred in a ‘safe space’ at the hands of her partner. The judge, Thokozile Masipa, frequently referred to the “negligent” nature of Pistorius’ actions, yet the shots fired that night were clearly so much more severe than that.
Under South African law, an individual can be found guilty of murder if they intend to kill one person but kill another instead. Many legal experts have suggested that Pistorius must have had some idea that firing four shots into a small toilet cubicle would have had a good chance of killing whoever was inside. It is hard to accept the idea that, having been found guilty of culpable homicide, Pistorius has been released on bail, facing only a ‘probable’ jail sentence
As an onlooker, it seems Pistorius has been treated leniently and the verdict is dissatisfying for all women suffering domestic violence. While we wait for Pistorius to be sentenced, South Africa remains the most violent country in the world, its population disheartened by the verdict of the most high profile court case in post-apartheid South Africa. Corruption and misogyny continue to colour the politics and law of everyday life and unfortunately there is no clear end in sight.