As I was driving home now, I heard the news: Oscar Pistorius’ verdict was overturned by the court today; his manslaughter verdict was overturned and he has been found guilty of murder. Finally, Gerrie Nel got his man!
It has been such a long process and one in which South Africa’s legal system had been torn apart by so many. To the outside world it seemed ridiculous that, after a trial that was one of the main events on television world wide, the judge found him guilty of manslaughter. In short, she found that he couldn’t have foreseen that his firing shots onto a locked toilet door could cause the death of whomever was behind the door. The Appeals Court disagreed.
After his initial sentencing, murmurs could be heard of corruption and that he wasn’t handed a harsher verdict or sentence because he is white and to top that, he is famous. But there was also the potato choir that started Facebook groups and let everyone know how unfair it was that this poor, disabled boy had to spend even a day behind bars. Reeva Steenkamp’s name was dragged through the mud, her mother accused of being after money and fame and it was said over and over again that if he was black, he would have not spent any time in jail.
I’m calling BS on all that. It’s understandable that people have varied views on what happened. I just woke up in Australia when I turned the television on and saw on the news that Oscar Pistorius murdered his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. I was stunned – I was one of the paralympian’s biggest supporters and couldn’t believe that the soft-spoken, hardworking athlete could have hurt anyone, let alone the girl he was dating.
My mother was in a state: “We have to pray, that poor young man can’t go to jail, he wouldn’t survive it!”
My father was the pragmatic police officer I grew up with: “He’s going to sit. They got him. You can’t shoot someone point blank in your house and then claim it was an accident.”
I didn’t know what to think or what I even wanted to happen. All I wanted was for all of it not to be true. He was our golden boy, the one who showed the world how brave South African’s could be by not being halted by his disability! He wasn’t supposed to be a murderer!
The world watched as Oscar Pistorius went on trial
Then the trial started and every evening around six I would turn on the television to watch what was happening live in the court in my motherland. As the trial unfolded, I felt more than once like someone had punched me in the stomach. I never knew that he was involved in a restaurant shooting, I never knew that he loved guns and made jokes about splattering brains. It read like a movie script. But it was all true.
When we lived in Gansbaai and Gerrie Nel prosecuted some of our friends and acquaintances for abalone poaching, I thought he was a dragon with no heart. But as the Oscar Pistorius trial dragged on, I came to see him as someone seeking justice and nothing else. He didn’t treat the accused like he was a victim of his disability. He didn’t treat him like a celebrity. He treated him like a man that took a gun and fired shots through a door, killing a young, productive member of society, someone he professed to love.
As a mother of three daughters I started putting myself in the shoes of June Steenkamp, Reeva’s mother. If that had to happen to me, I don’t think I could be as calm and well-behaved in court as she was. And a verdict of manslaughter, basically a slap on the wrist, would have felt to me like the biggest injustice had been done.
It wasn’t only Oscar Pistorius on trial; in the eyes of the world the South African judicial system was on trial and after a verdict of manslaughter, it seemed as unjust as the world thought it was.
Gerrie Nel, you are a hero
Today I can say that I have the utmost respect for Gerrie Nel and the South African judicial system. He persevered and wouldn’t let go of the case long after everyone thought it was lost. In his eyes it didn’t matter what colour the murderer was or that he was famous, all he saw was a man that killed in cold blood. Gerrie Nel proved that, in South Africa, it doesn’t matter who you are, if you kill someone you will be brought to justice. I know there are many cases falling by the wayside and that we don’t always feel like justice had been done but in this one case, we know it had.
For now Oscar Pistorius will remain under house arrest until he is resentenced. This time I believe Judge Masipa will hand down a sentence that is more appropriate for someone who took the life of an innocent. And I want to say well done, Gerrie Nel. You and your team never gave up. You will be remembered as the bulldog that wouldn’t let go until you got justice for the victim. I salute you.