Pistorius Jailed: Is This Justice?

Oscar Pistorius jail

by Lucy Vine |
Published on

The South African Paralympian will serve only six years for murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp; our columnist despairs...

There is something about this case that feels so vivid to me. I can’t stop playing that scene in my head; feeling that fear itching through me. The terror that Reeva Steenkamp would’ve felt in her final minutes. Screaming and crying and begging for help on her bathroom floor, as a man she loved fired his 9mm handgun through the door four times. It replays for me like a scene from a horror film whenever I see yet another sympathetic head tilt for the 'fallen hero' Oscar Pistorius.

At 10.32am on Wednesday, the former Paralympian was finally sentenced for the murder of his then-girlfriend, Steenkamp. As Judge Thoko Masipa announced Pistorius would serve 'six years’ imprisonment', court reporters in South Africa say families on both sides gasped. It’s predicted he will serve maybe two years in prison – despite the minimum sentence for murder starting at 15 years.

The judge justified her incredible decision by saying, 'The life of the accused shall never be the same. He is a fallen hero and can never be at peace.' Excuse me? He will never be at peace BECAUSE HE MURDERED A PERSON. Don’t murder people and you can be peaceful. It is a big incentive not to murder people. And what about ‘peace’ for Reeva’s family? The day before sentencing, Reeva’s father, Barry Steenkamp delivered an emotional testimony begging that Pistorius 'pay for his crime'. Is two years in prison enough compensation for their relentless loss of peace?

And what about that astonishing reference to our 'fallen hero'? I can’t understand that justification on any level. Pistorius the 'hero' had every incentive, every chance, every opportunity to be happy and do good in the world. He was not desperate, not broken – he was rich, educated, talented and handsome. If anything, his hero status meant he deserved more punishment for his crime, not less.

But this was the same judge who originally decided to convict Pistorius of manslaughter in October 2014. She was the judge who gave him a paltry five years back then, and allowed him to serve only one before turning him over to house arrest, where he could chill by the pool at his uncle’s luxury home in Pretoria. This was the same judge who was overturned by the supreme court in December – told that, yes, of course this was murder. I don’t pretend to know how the courts work, but I have to call bullshit on a system that lets punishment be decided by a person who’s already openly stated that she thinks this ‘murder’ was an accident. Pistorius maintains that he thought a burglar was hiding in his bathroom – a barely comprehendible excuse even if neighbours hadn’t heard Reeva screaming that night. During sentencing, Judge Masipa was still saying she believed that story, so of course she was going to give him the bare minimum sentence. But the ‘bare minimum’ was supposed to be 15 years.

Polly Neate, Chief Executive at Women’s Aid says she welcomes the verdict but is disturbed by the sentence, saying, 'This reduced sentence highlights the lack of value placed on women’s lives. In her sentencing, Judge Masipa said there was no indication that Reeva was in an abusive relationship and that this is not a case of gender violence. We must continue to drive the culture change needed to keep women safe from male violence.'

It’s especially awful in the context of a country rife with violent crime against women. 2013 figures show South Africa’s rate of female homicide is five times that of the rest of the world. But that doesn’t mean UK figures should be played down. I’ve written about the disturbing domestic violence stats before, but it’s worth repeating: Every single week, two women are killed by their partner or ex-partner in England and Wales, and every 30 seconds the police receive an emergency call relating to domestic abuse. It’s a mess.

And so here we are. Left, yet again, with another incident of publicly sanctioned violence against women. We are encouraged – yet again – to forgive a man who has perpetrated violence on women. Yes, he murdered his girlfriend, but, guys, he feels bad and he used to have money and status, so what can you do? Many outlets reporting the news ran with an emotional and – let’s face it – sympathetic picture of Pistorius hugging his sister as he was led away to jail. We were reminded by many others, once again, of the lamentable loss of a superstar athlete. His uncle Arnold gave an interview saying he’d 'matured a lot' through this. One online story I saw LOL’d over how 'Oscar Pistorius superfans totally exist!'

That sympathy costs Reeva Steenkamp and every other victim of gendered violence. This decision sends a horribly distorted message that we are OK about brutality directed at women. Prison as punishment probably doesn’t work, but it’s the measure we use to say publicly that we won’t tolerate something. And six years for murder doesn’t say that.

READ MORE: Remembering Reeva Steenkamp: her inspiring life and tragic death

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