Oscar Pistorius trial brings back painful memories

2014-03-09 14:00

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In the courtroom next door to where Oscar Pistorius is on trial for murder after killing his model girlfriend, another man was to be sentenced for the murder of his part-time model girlfriend

The Pistorius trial has brought painful memories to the surface, writes Elinor Sisulu

When I first heard of the tragic death of Reeva Steenkamp at the hands of Oscar Pistorius, I immediately called my friend Busi Khumalo.

Her voice confirmed what I suspected – that the shocking news had reopened wounds that had scarcely begun to heal.

“It is as if it happened yesterday,” she said, referring to the fateful afternoon of April 21 2011, when she and her husband Themba found the lifeless body of their daughter Zanele in her bed in their home.

They immediately suspected Zanele’s abusive ex-boyfriend, and their suspicions were confirmed by the testimony of neighbours, Zanele’s friends and workers in the vicinity of the complex where they live.

Despite all the evidence, it took nine long months for the suspect to be arrested and eventually put on trial.

While the drama of the Pistorius trial was playing out to a packed courtroom on Thursday, Busi and Themba sat with their two daughters Confidence and Lindiwe and a handful of friends in the courtroom next door to see out the closing stages of the trial of their daughter’s murderer.

Sitting in that courtroom hearing Zanele being referred to as “the deceased”, I realised just what an ordeal it was for the family. It was difficult to listen to the judge assuring the man convicted of her murder that his rights would be respected – this man who failed to respect Zanele’s right to live.

I wished the court would refer to her as Zanele, not “the deceased”.

Zanele was indeed an engaging and lovable child who I had the pleasure of meeting in 1995 in the Acacia Park parliamentary village in Cape Town. My friend Mary Cobbett introduced me to Busi and her two little girls, and I have pleasant memories of all our children playing together.

Busi offered her baby-sitting services when my youngest son was born in 1996. Zanele was beside herself with excitement when I left the baby with them for the first time.

I never ceased to be amazed by this little four-year-old so competently handling a baby. By the time her little sister Lindiwe was born a couple years later, Zanele knew how to feed her and change her nappies.

By 1999, both our families had moved to Pretoria, and Busi and I kept in touch.

I watched her daughters grow into stunningly attractive young women.

When Confidence moved to Joburg and Busi had to go out to work, Zanele took care of her little sister. She passed matric in 2010 and had plans to become a chef since she loved cooking. She also toyed with the idea of becoming a model – with her height and looks she had every chance of success.

She had the world at her feet but her life changed direction when she met Thato Kutumela.

In the face of overwhelming evidence, Kutumela maintains he

is innocent. Where there is no admission of guilt there can be no remorse and the young man does not show any.

I looked around the courtroom at the Khumalo family and friends on one side, the family of the convicted murderer on the other, the judge, the lawyers, the court officials and police officers, and the few reporters present and I thought we were all there because of the actions of this person who seems to have no appreciation or concern about the devastation he has left in his wake.

I recall the letter that Themba wrote to his daughter two days after her tragic death: “Your sudden departure, my love, at such a young age is difficult to come to terms with.

It has drawn floods of tears from me. It has drawn tears from your mum and your sisters Confi and Lindi. It has distressed everyone who knew you and your easy-going personality.

It is difficult for me?...?It is difficult for all your friends, especially the last ones to see you alive.

It is difficult for my colleagues at work, especially those who have tasted the muffins you baked for them. Your untimely departure is difficult for all those who knew your infectious smile.”

Zanele’s younger sister Lindi says: “A lot has changed, Especially for my birthdays when we would do things together. Whenever I had problems, we would talk about them. She would help me with my homework. It is very different now.”

It is very different for Zanele’s family, friends and community. The conviction and sentencing of her murderer will bring some relief but it will not bring her back.

Her family and friends will live forever with the loss and the sorrow. Zanele, we will always remember you.

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