In September 2014 Oscar was acquitted of murder charges and sentenced instead to five years for culpable homicide. Ten months of this sentence were actually spent in prison with the remainder of the sentence being served under house arrest in his uncle’s lavish mansion.
Reeva came to embody the many women who had at some point in their lives been subjected to abuse.
This was a slap in the face not only to Reeva’s family but to millions of women in South Africa. In a country where the statistics for rape and violence against women are nothing short of mortifying, Reeva came to embody the many women who had at some point in their lives been subjected to abuse at the hands of their partners. She became the voice of the voiceless and the justice which women before her had so desperately sought and yet had not received; the very possibility for a change. And in spite of that possibility for change and justice, with the quick striking of the gavel, Oscar still managed to walk away – although Reeva could not.
As the trial had progressed, the focus itself had shifted more and more towards Oscar: his emotional and mental turmoil, how life without legs had predisposed him to an anxiety disorder, his overwhelming feelings of inadequacy and paranoia which had ultimately resulted in the death of Reeva. Now any good defence team would have assumed this stance naturally but what was appalling was how the general public began to empathise with Oscar to the point that Reeva’s death became almost understandable, almost justifiable and she an unfortunate casualty in what was seemingly beyond the control of even Oscar himself.
As I myself watched the trial, I considered the broader context of our country wherein many of our cultures naturally assert the superiority of men.
Members of the African National Congress Women’s League (ANCWL) faithfully attended day after day of the lengthy trial in support of Reeva’s family in addition to organising protests outside of the courtroom expressing their opposition to violence against women and children. Their efforts, although commendable, proved in vain.
The trial proceeded with a trajectory that merely reinforced a sentiment with which we were already familiar – a patriarchal system accustomed to downplaying the crimes perpetrated by men against women and the further victimisation of the women who had already endured too much. It also supported the reality that wealthy and influential men are more likely to get off scot-free.
As I myself watched the trial, I considered the broader context of our country wherein many of our cultures naturally assert the superiority of men. I considered too how women who speak out against the abuse they’ve endured at the hands of their fathers, uncles or husbands are often ostracised and it was then that I became aware of my tremendous disappointment. Disappointment because – as much as women’s rights, women empowerment initiatives and activism had come a long way, particularly in such a culturally-knit society – it seemed as if the more things changed, the more they stayed exactly the same.
Fast forward to 2016 and after a fervent appeal by the State, Oscar has finally been sentenced to six years in prison with the possibility of parole only after three years. Spokesperson of the ANCWL, Jacqui Mofokeng, described the sentence as ‘an insult to all women and the Steenkamp family – an emotional blow’. This is in light of a murder charge ordinarily carrying a minimum of fifteen years.
More victories, bigger victories are yet to come.
However, against the backdrop of the thousands of cases which go unreported in addition to the cases which although reported, never even reach trial, this is nonetheless, however small, a victory. More victories, bigger victories are yet to come – a milestone on the long road to affirming the reality that we as women will no longer quietly stand by whilst we are maltreated with impunity.
We cannot neither as a society nor as a judicial system continue to perpetuate the notion that there resides something in men that is beyond their control – something that allows for the justification of their crimes to become a norm. It is a milestone on the long road to affirming the reality that we as women will no longer quietly stand by whilst we are maltreated with impunity.