Was Justice Served Against Oscar Pistorius?

Today was D-Day for Oscar Pistorius after a long and gruelling legal battle lasting more than three years, over the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

In reading out the sentence, Judge Masipa said Pistorius was a "fallen hero".
In reading out the sentence, Judge Masipa said Pistorius was a “fallen hero”.

On 14 February 2013, Pistorius killed his model girlfriend Steenkamp by fatally blasting her through his bathroom door at his home in the private community of Silver Woods Country Estate in Pretoria, South Africa, believing her to be an intruder. Realising it was Steenkamp that lay in a bloody heap, he attempted to revive her but she died in his arms.  Speaking at the Pretoria Magistrates Court just days days later, he insisted he did not intend to kill his girlfriend of four months, that he loved her.

The athletic star was convicted of manslaughter in 2014 and sentenced to five years in prison, but served just ten months before being placed under house arrest. An appeal launched by the National Prosecuting Authority called for the culpable homicide verdict and the fi­ve-year sentence to be reviewed. They insisted that Pistorius should be charged with murder (which carries a prison term of at least 15 years in South Africa.)

The Supreme Court of Appeals cited that Pistorius should have foreseen the deadly impact of his actions and thus changed his conviction to murder. He returned to court in Pretoria, South Africa just a few weeks ago and convicted of “murder dolus eventualis” as opposed to “murder dolus directus”, which implies a higher degree of direct intent rather than recklessness.

Today at the High Court in North Gauteng, Judge Thokozile Masipa delivered the six-year sentence, despite calls for the minimum term to be served. “Our courts are courts of law, not courts of public opinion,” she said. “Public opinion may be loud and persistent but it can play no role in the decision of this court.” She told the courts that she did not believe that the relationship between Steenkamp and Pistorius to be of a violent nature.

Anni Dewani was murdered in 2010, her killers received sentences between 18 years and life.

Not since the murder of Anni Dewani in 2010, has a murder trial in South Africa been thrust into the public limelight. The newly blushing bride was blasted in the back seat of a taxi in Cape Town as she sat next to her husband Shrien Dewani. Taxi driver Zola Tongo pleaded guilty of her murder in December 2010 and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Gunman Mziwamadoda Qwabe also pleaded guilty to murder in August 2012 and was ordered to serve 25 years in prison. A third perpetrator Xolile Mngeni was tried and convicted of murder in November 2012, and was sentenced to life in prison. So why has Pistorius been sentenced so lightly?

Many watched the almost uncomfortable display of Pistorius’ ‘vulnerability’, as his lawyer Barry Roux had his client hobble through the courts on his stumps in a bid to fish for sympathy and leniency. The judge, having looked at all the evidnece told the courts that they were dealing with two different people: Pistorius on and off the track. She said, “Even without the physical demonstration which took place in court with the accused on his stumps, it is clear we are dealing with two different persons. To ignore this fact would be to lead to an injustice.”

Judge Masipa said upon sentencing that she believed there were “substantial and compelling” reasons why the athlete should not be handed the 15-year stipulated sentence for murder, one being that the athlete had shown remorse and that at the commencement of the legal proceedings, and apologised to the family of the deceased. Following his release in 2015 he had attempted to reach out to them but was unsuccessful. She believes the sprint star will be a good candidate for rehabilitation under prison surveillance. The prison where he will reside is allegedly a hotbed of gang violence, rape and ‘uncompromising’ prison guards. So while his sentence is seemingly short, it will not be in any way comfortable.

Legal experts and campaigners have criticised Oscar Pistorius’ six-year jail sentence for murder as “an insult to the women of South Africa”. While Pistorius’ brother Carl tweeted, “The record has been set straight and justice done. The truth will always prevail,” following his brother’s sentencing.