Oscar Pistorius, found guilty of culpable homicide (the equivalent of manslaughter in British law), on one out of three charges, for the killing of Reeva Steenkamp, raised many controversial questions in jurisdictions all around the world.
The ruling based on Judge Masipa’s finding that Pistorius used ‘excessive force’ and ‘negligence in firing through the door’, carries a maximum sentence of fifteen years, but crucially has no minimum sentence. It is based on a different kind of intention, known in legal terms as ‘dolus eventualis’, which holds the defendant responsible for the foreseeability of their actions.
Throughout the case, there has been a notable split when debating issues of public opinion, the demands of justice, rehabilitation and the personal circumstances of the case. Defence lawyer, Barry Roux described Pistorius as a ‘victim’ and stated that ‘no punishment can be worse than the experiences he has suffered in the last eighteen months’. Contrastingly, prosecutor Gerrie Nel accused Pistorius of using his disability as a ‘mitigating factor’ and stated that a minimum of ten years was ‘essential for the benefit of society’.
It is a probable result of Pistorius’s wealth and notoriety that the sentencing has raised questions about the state of South African prisons and the criminal justice system, process and constitution in general. The entire trial will have been concluded in one third of the time it takes a typical manslaughter charge in the UK, and concerns surrounding the emotive and often soap-like televised trial have been debated.
The case also raised serious concerns about domestic violence in South Africa, with at least 60,000 woman and children victimized every month. Protestors surrounded the court throughout the trial, holding signs that included messages such as ‘the law has double standards, woman always seem to lose’ and ‘our daughters are being killed and nothing is happening. In addition to this, ANC Woman’s league sat in solidarity with the mother of the victim and protested the prevalence of domestic violence accusing the case of getting ‘special treatment’.
Although the connection between the prevalence of domestic violence in South Africa and the murder of Steenkamp may seem tenuous, to many, the high-profile nature of the case has drawn attention to what may be an all-too-common circumstance. The African National Congress League’s spokesperson, Jackie Mofokeng stated, ‘we expect justice to be done. This is clearly one of the most horrendous cases’.
Members of other activist groups have highlighted the trial as epitomizing the power struggles dominating South Africa and the intersection between patriarchy and racism. One feminist activist, Che Ramsden, wrote that ‘the media reaction to the trial shows a white man at the heart of his story, displacing his victim. If we are to have any semblance of justice, we as a society need to recognize the structural racism which continues to pervade South Africa’.
Photo Credits: SIPHIWE SIBEKO/REUTERS