There Are More Issues in South Africa than Oscar Pistorius’s Trial

Domestic Violence MonthOscar Pistorius’s trial is making headlines and has been repeatedly featured in the news over the last few weeks. While the prosecution of celebrities naturally tends to draw attention, this will also be the first time South Africans will be able to watch and observe their legal system in real time. The media attention on Oscar Pistorius’s trial has also brought South Africa’s break-ins, domestic violence, and rape issues to the forefront of conversation.The unique media attention allows for discussion of the generally ignored crimes occurring in South Africa. Hopefully the focus on Oscar’s trial will lead to further reform and help for the abused women of South Africa.

Oscar Pistorius, also known as Blade-Runner, the double-amputee Olympian from South Africa, has been charged with the premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Reeva was a former model and law school graduate, and in the early morning of Valentine’s Day 2013, was shot dead by Oscar Pistorius. While Oscar insists that this was a mistake, there are several compelling arguments, which indicate this was not the case. Unfortunately she is just one of the many women in South Africa who has been killed by a lover. Gender Activist Lisa Vetten says that South Africa has one of the world’s highest rates of “intimate femicide,” in which a woman is killed by her partner. It is estimated that every six hours a male will kill his female partner, this statistic equates to about four causes of intimate femicide a day.

Pistorius described the event with how he thought the night occurred, but some evidence conflicts with his story. He starts his narrative with him and Reeva going to bed at 10pm. In the early morning, when he went to take in some fans from the balcony, he heard noises from the bathroom. He automatically fired three shots and after screaming at Reeva to call the police, realized that she was inside. He broke down the door and held her to his chest as she died. He then carried her downstairs and called for his neighbors help. While this might have been true, there is some evidence that this story is false. Firstly, Pistorius stated that the police tampered with the scene by moving the cell phone, firearm, and curtain. He goes on to state that they also unplugged the fans to charge their cellphones. However when the prosecution asked about the exact position of the fans it was discovered that Pistorius’s claims about the socket locations could not be true. Secondly, Oscar claimed that they went to bed at 10pm however neighbors heard a shouted argument about an hour and a half before the incident. Another neighbor claimed to have heard a woman’s scream before the shots were fired. At the autopsy, Steenkamp’s stomach also proved that she had eaten two hours prior to her death. Once again not complying with Oscar’s statement that they were asleep.

Regardless of whether or not he is innocent, Pistorius’s fear of having his home broken into is a real fear in South Africa. In 2012, more than 50% of South Africans told the police that they were afraid of having their homes broken into. The number of home burglaries has more than doubled since 2002. In 2002-2003 there were 9,063 incidents of homes that were broken into. Seven years later, in 2010, the number of home break-ins increased to 18,786 per 12-month period. According to the Institute for Security Studies, in a study conducted in 2012 there were 16,766 break-ins. Paranoia is highly understandable, which may account for the 6 million licensed firearms in South Africa. However what is unique is that when burglars break in, they usually want the homeowner’s guns. This is due partially to the difficulty in acquiring a gun legally and also to the historical background of apartheid in South Africa. The racial segregation from 1948-1994 took away rights from black Africans allowing white South Africans to hold a monopoly of power. From this disparity and combat between blacks and whites, an arms race emerged as both sides horded firepower.

In 2000 South Africa passed the Firearms Control Act dramatically decreasing the amount of gun violence. This increased the legal age to own a gun from 16 up to 21 years old. Additionally to apply for a gun competency tests must be completed. In these courses, gun-owners must demonstrate their ability to shoot straight and understand the laws pertaining to firearm safety. Law enforcement also conducts a background check for mental illness, violence, and addiction. References are given and medical information is analyzed. Once the license is obtained, gun owners must reapply and re-qualify every two to 10 years. This rule helps to ensure that there is only one gun approved per person. These rules have helped to reduce gun related crime by 21.2% since 2004/2005. They have also reduced the percentage of female murders caused by guns from 33% in 1999 to 17% in 2009, although it has increased the percentage of female murdered by knives.

This is not to say that South Africa is a safe place. Every day around 50 people are murdered and in addition to the 18,000 murders a year, there are another 18,000 attempted murders. Approximately 80% of murders happen between people who know each other. Clearly this system is not perfect. Oscar does have a history of violence and under the provisions of the Firearms Control Act should not have been given a gun. He served a night in jail after assaulting a 19-year-old girl in his house. He slammed a door onto her legs and caused bruising. At the time he shot Reeva he also had 38 rounds of unlicensed ammunition in his home, which goes against the provisions set forth by the South African Firearms Control Act. Former girlfriend Samantha Taylor also stated that Oscar Pistorius often had fits of rage. If she had served as one of his references, I am not sure he would have received his gun license.

Oscar, as a legal gun owner, knew that South African law would not have provided an open license to shoot. However these laws have not hindered Oscar’s reckless use of firearms. In one particular instance after he was stopped for a traffic violation, Oscar actually fired shots through the opening in his sunroof car. Weeks before Reeva was fatally shot, one of Pistorious’s guns actually fired in a busy restaurant and almost hit his friend’s legs. Oscar’s gun is loaded with Ranger bullets, formally known as Black Talons. These bullets were discontinued because they were meant to cause severe harm. The ammunition was designed to open up and mushroom upon striking human tissue to causing maximum damage. These bullets were even taken off the market because surgeons were worried that their fingers would be cut when operating on patients.

While Oscar attorney will try to portray him as a loving boyfriend, many women still believe that Reeva Steenkamp was a victim of domestic violence. Nomvula Mokonavane a protester is part of a large group of South African woman backed by the Women’s League of the ruling African national Congress. They have been loyally standing outside Oscar’s trial carrying phrases such as “No violence against women,” “Pistorius must rot in jail,” and “We want violence against women to stop, and we want men to treat us like equals because we are in the same society, and they have to deal with us as human beings.” Last year, South Africa’s deputy president released the statistic that 90% of South African women have experienced emotional or physical abuse. The World Health Organization reported in 2012 that every month, around sixty thousand women and children in South Africa were victims of domestic violence. This is the highest reported rate in the world. Domestic violence has become a commonplace in South Africa and most people are aware about it. Judge Thokozile Masipa, the nation’s second black judge, has a strong stance against domestic violence. It is her judgment, which will determine Oscar Pistorius’s fate. In 2013 she sentenced a serial rapist to 252 years in prison. In 2009, she sentenced a policeman to life for killing his wife during an argument. Judge Thokozile Masipa stated that “No one is above the law, you deserve to go to jail for life because you are not a protector. You are a killer.”

At first glance the relationship between domestic violence and the Oscar Pistorius case may seem obscure. However, there were several large indicators that Reeva was not fully safe and happy with Oscar. Before her death Reeva told her family and friends she was scared, and that she knew something was not right. Ex-girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, who was with Pistorius before the London Games also had issues with his jealousy and anger. When he returned from the games and saw that she was with another man, Pistorius threatened to break his rival’s legs.

Domestic violence is not always noticeable. Many of Oscar’s supporters talk about Reeva’s twitter posts: “What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow??? #getexcited #ValentinesDay “ and “I woke up in a happy safe home this morning. Not everyone did. Speak out against the rape of individuals in SA. RIP Anene Booysen. #rape # crime #sayNO” as an indicator that she had a great relationship with Oscar. But a happy looking couple from the outside does not necessarily mean that there is not something going on underneath it. Even if a woman says she loves a man, this is actually just more reason for her to stay with him in an abusive relationship. If the victim is in love with the aggressor they are more likely to believe the abuser’s lies. The relationship can be complex; the victim can feel love and affection while still being abused. It is still being debated as to what actually happened between Reeva and Oscar that morning, but it is important to note that the smiling pictures and twitter posts could be used to hide the presence of abuse.

Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonayane is one of the many people who have been using this case as a platform for raising current South African issues. In particular she has been urging for support for victims of crimes. South American crimes are not only limited to break-ins and intimate femicide. South Africa also has the highest counts of rape in the world. In the Gauteng province 37.4% of men admitted to rape (about 1 in 3 men) and 25.3% of women said that they were raped. In rural areas these numbers are likely to be even higher but fewer studies are conducted in those areas. The frequency of rape is astounding. But even worse is the way the victims are perceived by the general population often their attack. In a survey that David Smith wrote about in the Guardian “32 percent of men and women agree that ‘in any rape case one would have to question whether the victim is promiscuous” while 20.1 percent of men and 15.6 percent of women said that ‘in some rape cases, women want it to happen.” But when you look at the reality, around three-dozen women were raped and murdered in South Africa to correct their lesbianism. 17-year-old Anene Booysen’s gang rape and murder was also not warranted or her fault. In one month South Africa has had cases where the court charged: a man for chopping and beheading his wife with a machete, a 29 year old man raping an ill 2-year-old toddler in the hospital, the rape of a 100-year-old great-great grandmother, and the 15 men who gang raped a woman for hours. The statistics say every four minutes someone is getting raped in South Africa.

The Oscar Pistorius trial has raised important South African problems to a national level. While the trial will extend into July, due to the 2-week break and other legal proceedings, these issues cannot remain in the back burner. Further efforts should be spent to decrease violent crimes and reduce domestic violence. In South Africa, 50 people are murdered every day. Every six hours a woman is killed by intimate femicide. Rape happens every four minutes. South Africa should once again tackle the issues of private gun ownership and talk about how the new domestic violence legislation will be enforced. People in South Africa and nationally need to learn from these horrors and transform South Africa into a safer country.


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