In the eyes of the disabled

2014-04-06 14:00

A key part of Oscar Pistorius’ defence is ­likely to focus on the hostile and ­dangerous world that people with ­disabilities face every day.

A top senior counsel told City Press that Pistorius could avoid going to prison if he is found guilty. This would happen if his defence succeeded in “giving the court a whole new perspective on what it’s like to be a man without legs”.

Dr Brian Watermeyer, a clinical psychologist and ­researcher and activist in the field of disability studies, said South Africa was a society where we have “spent quite a lot of energy thinking about racial inequality and about gender inequality, but as a society we haven’t started ­thinking about disability prejudices at all”.

Watermeyer said the human rights of disabled people were violated every day in a world that was entirely designed for use by non-disabled people.

It is thus not unreasonable for them to develop a ­perception of the world as being “potentially dangerous and potentially hostile”.

“If you add to that the demand for men to be capable and masculine in particular ways, to stake their claim in society through strength and aggression?...?If you add those together, you get a strong picture of how a disabled man in a position of possible danger, because of his experience of hostility from society, may be more prone to potentially act impulsively.”

Pistorius’ murder trial will resume tomorrow. Due up first as the defence opens its case is the Free State’s chief pathologist, Professor Jan Botha.

Although it is usually the accused who leads the defence’s case, Botha has asked to go first, citing personal reasons that will not be made public.

The prosecution has accepted this and will not contest the order of witnesses on the understanding that Pistorius testifies directly after Botha.

Botha was not part of the postmortem on Reeva Steenkamp and sources close to the case said he had been called in to counter some of the more damaging aspects of the prosecution’s case.

Also on the witness list for the defence is another of ­Pistorius’ neighbours who lives much closer to the athlete than those who testified for the prosecution.

Rather tellingly, prosecutor Gerrie Nel did not list this neighbour as a witness – perhaps because he backs up the defence’s sequence of events, which suggests it was ­Pistorius who screamed in the early hours of the morning on February 14 last year, not Steenkamp.

City Press has also learnt that a US forensic company based in Cleveland, Ohio, was made available to the defence –?probably at considerable expense.

On its website, the company says it specialises in ­“forensic art” and “has built a reputation as reliable, ­innovative and efficient professionals in the field of forensic animation and legal demonstratives”.

“Let us visualise your case and you will see the results,” it says. The defence is expected to provide a physical plan to illustrate its version of events.

While the US forensic company was provided by one of Pistorius’ benefactors for the defence’s case, it’s not clear whether its services were actually used.

A source close to the prosecution dismissed the company as artists rather than forensic experts. “It’s just for the wow factor. They are hoping a slick presentation will make their experts look more professional than the SA Police Service ones,” said the source.

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