South Africa: Pistorius’ conviction a victory for justice this Sixteen Days

South Africa: Pistorius’ conviction a victory for justice this Sixteen Days

Date: December 4, 2015
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Johannesburg, 4 December: “Justice had prevailed!” So declared social media, Twitter, Facebook and renowned news agencies after the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein, South Africa, upheld the State’s appeal of Oscar Pistorius’ culpable homicide conviction, finding him guilty of murder at the peak of the Sixteen Days of Activism.

Judge Masipa will now have to pronounce a new sentence with a minimum conviction of fifteen years. Under the culpable homicide conviction, Pistorius served ten months of a five year jail term, and is currently out on parole, living in his uncle’s posh suburban home.

In the appeal proceedings, Justice Eric Leach said of Pistorius: “‘He fired four shots through the door and he never offered an acceptable explanation… he fired not one, but four shots’… The judge said he had ‘no doubt that in firing the fatal shots, the accused… did foresee that whoever was behind that toilet door might die.”
The outcome only means that he should have known that someone was behind the door: “The identity of his victim is irrelevant to his guilt,” Judge Leach said.

That someone, however, was Pistorius’ girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. The identity of his victim is indeed relevant. She was his lover and the only other person in the house at the time. Pistorius being convicted of murder is one step closer to justice for Reeva and her family; but is it a step further for the recognition of the seriousness of femicide in our very violent society.

Gender Links research shows that anything from one in four, to three in four, women experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. As in the Pistorius case most of this violence takes place within intimate relationships, with many women reporting their husbands or partners as the perpetrator.

In South Africa, 40 to 70% of female murder victims were killed by their intimate partners. Femicide is the act of killing a woman by an intimate partner. According to criminologist Anni Hesselink, “the chances of a woman being murdered by someone that she knows or is in an intimate relationship with are much higher than any other type of murder… Motives are often financial, adultery or a love-triangle, custody or a residential battle for children.”

Over the years women and girl children have been let down by the very society they trusted, cared for and were apart of in the worst cases. Among the challenges of convicting perpetrators of intimate femicide is the lack of past police records or otherwise recorded history of partner violence in the individual cases.
There are many reasons why women do not keep records of partner abuse at the police stations. At times women are tolerant and hopeful for change in their partner; they blamed themselves, or suffer silently, hiding the scars and covering up for their violent partners.

The courts seem almost immune to seeing femicide for what it is. It is the murder of a woman for being a woman, for not quite meeting those unreasonable needs and demands expected of her in the distorted mind of a patriarchal man.

Why do the courts choose to ignore the admittance of evidence that speaks to jealousy and control, as seemed evident in the texts between Oscar and Reeva Steenkamp? Light sentences and acquittals often bear witness instead to the lack of seriousness the system places in the disproportionate violence against women in this country.

Oscar Pistorius murdered Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day, 14 February 2013. The trial of Pistorius was one of the most high profile cases ever seen in South Africa because of his status as a sports hero.

A man who had overcome incredible odds as a double amputee to compete against able bodied athletes at the Olympics, Pristorius also liked guns. His trial included the unlawful possession of firearms.

He claims that he heard a noise and thought that an intruder had entered the bathroom of his house and went to confront the “intruder” with a loaded firearm. He thought Reeva was in bed and shot at what he thought was a trespasser behind the toilet door. He admitted killing Steenkamp, but denied that that was his intent and argued a case of self-defence.

After lengthy and complex arguments he was found guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to a maximum of five years of which he served less than one year before he was paroled; to serve the rest of his sentence at his uncle’s house. This has now been overtaken by the appeal of the prosecution against the findings of the trial. The short sentence and the parole in under a year shocked many especially those that believed that Steenkamp died as the result of her relationship with Pistorius.

One of the key questions asked at this time is whether our campaigning efforts are bringing about impact. When a modicum of justice is delivered in an internationally publicised femicide case such as that of Pistorius, there is some hope that justice might one day prevail.

(Shamiso Chigorimbo is a researcher and Anne Hilton the economic justice manager at Gender Links. This article is part of a special series for the Sixteen Days of Activism being produced by the Gender Links New Service).




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