Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past seven months or so, you’ve probably heard about Oscar Pistorius’s trial, or otherwise, the story of how Valentine’s Day can go from being essentially boring to an outright murder scene. In the early hours of the morning, on Valentine’s Day last year, Pistorius pointed his 9mm Parabellum pistol towards the bathroom door and fired four bullets through the locked door, killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. He claims he thought he was protecting both himself and Reeva from what he assumed was an intruder. The leniency of the sentence raises interesting points regarding the double standards of the legal system, which appears to be favoring the rich and famous. Are prominent athletes, such as Oscar Pistorius, above the law?
The “Blade Runner” was sentenced to a maximum of five years’ imprisonment, with a realistic possibility of him getting released within 8-10 months. To me, Pistorius’ trial placed the issue of class and status squarely before the entire world. Social media is crammed with accusations that Pistorius got off way too lightly, suggesting that South Africa has now set a binding precedent: If you are rich and famous, you are essentially above the law and you can get away with a slap on the wrist. #ThingsLongerThanOscarsSentence is a trending hashtag swamping Twitter, followed by mocking comments such as ‘the iPhone’s battery life’ and ‘Pitbull’s extensive vocabulary’.
Text messages between Reeva and Pistorius, reveal she was sometimes scared of him and complained about what she described as his ‘short temper and jealousy’ in the weeks before he killed her. Alas, Pistorius’ status and power ultimately eclipsed a fundamentally greater social problem: ‘Why is a woman still not safe while in her home?’ According to a National Study of Female Homicide in South Africa, every six hours, a woman is killed by her intimate partner. Whilst delivering a black letter verdict within perfect legal boundaries and possibly void of any moral implications, did Judge Masipa fail women all over the world? Did she set a precedent that, in the face of masculine influence and standing, women’s lives don’t matter?
Ironically enough, the defense maintained that prison would ‘break’ Pistorius, and ‘take away his future’. ‘How can we say Pistorius will not be a victim of gang rape?’ was a question supposed to play on the judge’s sympathy. I guess receiving a ridiculously brief and lenient sentence does not earn you a complimentary sentence to a Holiday Inn. Prison is not a pleasant place, it is not meant to be a pleasant place. I’d like to think that suitable legal punishments widen the gap between humanity and total anarchy and, ultimately, set humankind far apart from animals.
And while we may never find out what happened inside his multi-million dollar mansion, Oscar Pistorius has not only committed a crime but also a career-suicide. His sentencing has undeniably sparked much controversy, but what makes me more uncomfortable, is not so much the brevity of his sentence but the fact that ‘The Trial of the Century’ barely scratched the surface of the prevailing social problems, leaving many important questions about gender violence and social status unanswered.