In light of today’s verdict, where the “Blade Runner” was acquitted of murdering his girfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, many people have asked me what I think of the trial. Here, in bullet-points, are a few quick initial thoughts.
*Pistorius was found not guilty of murder, but is still on the hook for negligence. The judge may find Pistorius guilty of a lesser charge, “culpable homicide,” aka manslaughter. That charge can carry anything from a suspended sentence to a long jail term. The judge will announce her decision on the culpable homicide issue tomorrow.
* She will apply the test of what a “reasonable man” with Pistorius’s disabilities should have done. She tipped her hand, saying she was “not persuaded that a reasonable person with the accused’s disabilities would have fired four shots” into the bathroom. Pistorius could have called security or went to the balcony and yelled for help.
* South Africa itself has been on trial, especially the police and criminal justice system. The police bungling of this high profile case makes you question what kind of mistakes happen under the radar in everyday cases. The case showed the worst of the police: mishandling of evidence, even evidence of the police stealing Pistorius’s watches.
* The judge had to decided whether this case is about domestic violence or residential crime – twin demons that haunt the country.
* Judge Thokozile Masipa is a black woman who was raised in a poor Zulu township, and studied law under apartheid. The fact that she holds this rich white celebrity’s fate in her hands shows how far the country has come since apartheid. She has been hailed for the calm and dignity she brought to the proceedings.
*Pistorius is South Africa’s OJ Simpson. His trial exposed the lifestyle of a celebrity and also made him they symbol of all things wrong in their country. It showcased the rich’s fear of the poor, racial tension, violence against women, gun violence, and the privileges of a wealthy white defendant.
* While Pistorius’s high profile trial has transfixed the world’s media, little focus has been given on how to prevent violence against women and girls,
* South Africa has some of the world’s worst rates of violence against women, and the highest rate of women killed by an intimate partner. A woman is killed by her husband or boyfriend every eight hours. The rate of intimate femicide, the killing of women by their partners, is five times higher than the global average.
*Research shows that partner violence and rape are fundamentally related to unequal gender norms, power inequalities, and ideals of manhood that support violence and control over women
* A 2013 Unesco report found South Africa’s sex education failed in a number of topics, including gender rights and age appropriateness. Children on South African playgrounds play a game called “rape rape” where boys chase girls and pretend to sexually assault them.
*An estimated 500,000 rapes take place every year in South Africa. In 2012, Interpol named South Africa the rape capital of the world. Still, fewer than 1% of rape cases are reported to the police. There have been reports that police stations are running out of rape kits, which are needed to collect evidence.
* A South African report attributed the low report and conviction rate to the public perception of the police post-apartheid, where police are regarded as a symbol of oppression.
For a more thorough analysis, check out these excellent articles, from which I took much of the above information and analysis: “The Problem of Violence Against Women in South Africa,” by Lydia Smith writing for the International Business Times, and “How the Oscar Pistorius Trial Became a Mirror on South African Society,” by David Smith writing for the Guardian.