• Oscar Pistorius has lately become the poster boy of “everything wrong with domestic violence” but he was not always here. He rode the wave of worldwide fame for his sporting feats which were as monumental as they were unusual. Here was a sporting icon, an inspiration to many people around the world. The blade runner as he was called won many Paralympic medals but his moment came in 2012 when he became the first amputee to compete in the Olympics held in London. In February, 2013, Pistorius made front page news, this time for a different reason. He had shot and killed his girlfriend in the morning of Valentine’s Day.

    Who is Oscar Pistorius?

    Pistorius was born without fibulae and his legs were both amputated below the knee at just eleven months of age. He however, grew up in a home which did not allow him to sit back and feel sorry for himself but to maximise on what he could do. Pistorius’ mother was his major influence and she left him a letter he often quoted from, written when he had his legs amputated, “The real loser is never the person who crosses the finishing line last. The real loser is the person who sits on the side. The person who does not even try to compete.” His mother died when he was 15 as a result of drug complications following a hysterectomy. Pistorius was interested in a number of sports from boxing to wrestling and rugby. When he was 16, he had a serious rugby injury and had to look for an alternative sport to help him rehab. This is how the blade-runner was born and he became unstoppable from then on. He won a gold and a bronze at the Athens Paralympics. A new player had arrived. He then made history by competing in the London Olympics in 2012, achieving immediate worldwide fame.

    The 14th of February 2013

    In February 2013, the Olympian stole the front-pages yet again, this time for shooting and killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp at his home in Pretoria, South Africa. At a Magistrates Court hearing in Pretoria, he admitted to unintentionally shooting Steenkamp on the Valentine’s Day of 2013. He said he had mistaken his girlfriend for an intruder and shot four times through a bathroom door. Steenkamp had bullet wounds to the head and one arm. In the Trial Court Proceedings, he pleaded not guilty to the charge of murder and two other gun indictments. He was found guilty of culpable homicide and sentenced to five years in prison. The Appeal Court overturned this verdict, finding him guilty of First-Degree Murder on the 3rd of December in 2015. The argument was that Pistorius had foreseen that whoever was behind the door might die but continued with the enterprise of shooting having reconciled himself to the death occurring. The identity of the victim was taken to be irrelevant. Pistorius then appeared in court in June 2016 for sentencing and the Judge announced after three days of testimony and arguments. The judge also granted an application for graphic images of Reeva Steenkamp’s body to be released. This came after Pistorious had paced around on his stumps in the courtroom to show his vulnerability.

    What Oscar Means to Gender-Based Violence

    Oscar’s murder case has managed to bring gender-based violence into the mainstream in a manner not many other court cases have. It managed to highlight the flaws in the South African system as cases normally took too long to go through the system. According to Sonke Gender Justice, on average, three women are killed by an “intimate partner” in South Africa every day. The Sonke Executive Director, Dean Peacock says, “Every woman who is killed matters – whether she’s the girlfriend of a world-famous Olympian, or a woman whose name hardly anyone knows in a rural village a thousand kilometres away.”

    In a country where the Medical Research Council says less than 38% of intimate partner femicides lead to conviction within two years, there is need for serious conversations on the protection of women in South Africa. In a letter to the Department of Justice and Correctional Services in 2015, the Progressive Women’s Movement of South Africa petitioning against Oscar’s release in August, Women’s month said, “The criminal justice system promotes the rights of male perpetrators above the rights of all others and in the application of the law, double standards are followed. Therefore, the application of laws and structures such as the judiciary, the parole board and other role players within the criminal justice system, must change.”

    Oscar faces a minimum of fifteen years in prison. This should serve as a lesson for offenders everywhere regardless of who they are.


    Image Credit: Huffington Post