Oscar akin to an abused woman? Heaven help us!

I found little to celebrate during the cold Women’s Month past.

Instead of reflecting on how far we have come twenty years into our new democracy, the news was hogged by closing arguments on fallen paralympian sports hero Oscar Pistorius’ shooting of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

This happened on Valentine’s Day over eighteen months ago.

The prosecution, led by Gerrie Nel, has argued a case of femicide – the murder of a woman by an intimate partner that takes place every eight hours in this country, according to the most recent statistics.

Enter Barry Roux, Pistorius’ chief defence advocate on the closing day of arguments to compare his client to an abused woman who has been punched too many times, leading to the "slow burn" that may result in the woman murdering her partner.

When Judge Thokozile Masipa said she understood how this might apply to an abused woman, but asked Roux how this could apply to Pistorius, Roux replied: "You’re a little boy without legs, you experience daily that disability and the effect of this, you experience daily that you cannot run away."

He continues: "...you know: 'I cannot run away, I cannot run away I don’t have a flight response'." And that somehow explains why Pistorius, who claims he heard an intruder in the house, shot Steenkamp.

I’ve tried to keep my cool and stay objective watching this reality TV court drama on my small screen every night.

The fact that Pistorius killed, his intimate partner, is not in doubt; the only point of contention is intent. When this is compared to an abused woman murdering her partner after years of verbal and psychological abuse, I lose it!

Research done by Gender Links on Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) in five Southern African countries and four provinces of South Africa shows that of all the ugly forms of violence – emotional, verbal, physical and sexual – the first two account for the highest, also most unrecognised forms of VAWG: the slow death that many women daily experience.

Roux noted that we might be empathetic to a woman in these circumstances who gets up and shoots her partner.

Sadly that is not the case in court. Research shows us that women who kill their partners in response to years of abuse get much stiffer sentences than men who do so as a result of their macho egos being somehow bruised.   

I imagine for a moment if the tables had been turned and lawyer-cum-model Steenkamp had shot Pistorius what the headlines would read: murderer, mad woman, evil witch and many more.

But he’s a man and she was a woman. We have become so attuned to men killing their intimate partners that in the public mind there might even be some plausible reason why Oscar Pistorius acted the way he did.

First, Roux wanted us to believe that he acted in self-defence, believing the person in the bathroom to be an intruder.

Then he pulled out the disability card, comparing Pistorius’ condition to a woman abused. In addition to my own repulsion, I’m wondering what those who advocate the rights of the disabled would have to say.

One day Pistorius is challenging the global sports fraternity to allow him to run with able-bodied persons; he’s a differently-abled person, not a disabled person. Now, he’s claiming that a lifetime of disability leads to paranoia and loss of control of one’s senses!     

Consider the objective facts: A couple are lying in bed, supposedly after a quiet dinner on Valentine’s night (strange that her bag is packed, ready to leave).

Next she is in the bathroom, with her cell phone, door locked, fully dressed, standing up, and shot four times. Why would you lock the bathroom door in your or your partner's home? He claims he heard an intruder.

Why would he not have turned to the only other person in the house and asked if she had heard the same? Instead, he’s up on his stumps, with a lethal weapon, shooting not once but four times, at close range.

Four independent witnesses say they heard a woman scream before and after the shots. According to the defence, when Oscar screams, he has a high pitched cry.

Though never demonstrated in court apart from his incessant high pitched crying we are to believe that the heart wrenching screams described by neighbours were actually Oscar screaming.

The defence argues that he must be acquitted because it was all one big mistake. I am hearing Nel in court countering that by saying to Pistorius: "say you killed her, take responsibility," and him refusing to do so.

I recall vividly that his tears and flaky apology to Reeva’s parents failed to move me. At least the one thing we all seem to agree is that Pistorius made a poor witness and did his case more harm than good.

According to Nel, he dropped the baton of truth so does not deserve to finish the race. Roux argues that the state failed to prove "beyond reasonable doubt" that two had an argument, leading to Pistorius shooting to kill.

If not murder, says the state, Pistorius must at least be guilty of culpable homicide. Culpable homicide, like murder, is a form of unlawful killing.

The crucial difference, however, is that if a person kills intentionally it is murder, whereas if he or she kills negligently it is culpable homicide.

A senior legal friend in a neighbouring Southern African country where this trial is also being watched closely comments in conversation that the real person on trial in this case is Judge Masipa.

When she makes her ruling we will not have the usual excuse in South Africa that it’s an old school white judge weighing the facts. This is one of South Africa’s few new black women judges. She must be guided by the law, but she cannot escape the context. 

As we await 9/11 when judgement is to be handed down, let’s say to ourselves, and deal with the reality that "twenty years into our new democracy, a woman’s life still means so much less than that of a man."

This, as much as Oscar Pistorius, is what is on trial in this case.

UPDATE: This article has been edited to remove a factual error.

Colleen Lowe Morna is Chief Executive Officer of
Gender Links. She writes this article in her personal capacity. This article is part of the GL News Service, offering fresh views on every day news.

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Women24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Women24.

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