Spellbound by trial and errors
Oscar Pistorius with Steenkamp, whom he is accused of murdering. photographs: siphiwe sibeko/reuters and thembani makhubele/reuters
Bailed: Oscar Pistorius in court this week
The shooting of Reeva Steenkamp by Oscar Pistorius has both shocked and enthralled South Africans, sparking a national debate about domestic violence, crime and guns
‘Next to Nelson Mandela, he was the most famous South African in the world, even better known than our president [Jacob Zuma],” says Greg Espey, an accountant in Cape Town. “He made us feel good about ourselves at a time when our country is experiencing a lot of problems. Now, what has come out in the bail hearing is just very sad and embarrassing. Who knows what the truth is, because so little of the hard forensic evidence has come out at this stage.”
Espey’s was a widely held view in the days after Oscar Pistorius shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, at his Pretoria home in the early hours of February 14th. When, after 24 hours in police custody, Pistorius was charged with premeditated murder, the public found it difficult to comprehend. While there was sympathy for Steenkamp and her family – messages of condolences have streamed in – there was also an initial groundswell of support for Pistorius, whose life was unravelling in front of a watching world.
The Paralympic gold medallist, known as the Blade Runner, had been revered in South Africa since 2004 because of his successes on the race track using carbon-fibre blades to run. Then at the Olympic Games in London last summer, the national hero went global as the first double amputee to compete in the able-bodied competition. He has since become a multimillionaire through endorsement deals with some of the world’s biggest brands.
In a country still divided along racial lines, South Africans from all backgrounds supported the young athlete whose strength of character and determination propelled him to achieve the unexpected.
But as the bail hearing unfolded, doubts grew about Pistorius’s claims that the shooting had been a tragic accident caused by his fear of being burgled. The South African public is spellbound by the case.
Barry Bateman, a reporter for the South African online news feed Eyewitness News, and one of the few media representatives entitled to sit in the small courtroom where Pistorius’s bail application took place, started posting messages on Twitter about the hearing on Monday. By Thursday afternoon his Twitter following had risen from less than 60,000 people to more than 128,000, with 50,000 of those signing up in one 24-hour period.
During the bail hearing the defence team for 26-year-old Pistorius maintained that their client woke in the middle of the night and mistook Steenkamp for an intruder in his bathroom. He panicked, grabbed his gun and opened fire out of fear.
If Pistorius had wanted to kill his girlfriend he did not need a locked toilet or bathroom to do it, his lawyer Barry Roux said at his bail application on Thursday. “He could do it anywhere,” he said, rejecting the state’s allegation that his client committed premeditated murder.