Busi Khumalo, the mother of Zanele Khumalo, who was murdered at their home, leaves the Pretoria high court. Picture: ETIENNE CREUX
Busi Khumalo, the mother of Zanele Khumalo, who was murdered at their home, leaves the Pretoria high court. Picture: ETIENNE CREUX

Critical lessons from Oscar’s trial

By RAY MCCAULEY Time of article published Mar 19, 2014

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We would be a better society and world if we emerge from Oscar Pistorius’s trial – whatever the verdict – with a heightened consciousness of intimate femicide and a greater resolve to confront the problem.

Too many women are dying at the hands of their intimate partners.

We do not know whether Oscar deliberately killed Reeva Steenkamp. The court has yet to establish the facts.

What we do know is that Reeva died at the hands of her partner.

Sadly, she is not the first and may not be the last woman to suffer such a fate. Zanele Khumalo who, like Reeva, was a young model with a bright future, was murdered by her boyfriend, Thato Kutumela, in April 2011.

Thato’s case was reportedly being heard next door to Oscar’s. He has been found guilty and will be back in court later this month for sentencing.

It is disturbing that Zanele’s case has not received as much media interest as Reeva’s. Both were models and the only distinction between them was their pigmentation.

Of course, in Reeva’s case, there is Oscar, who is no ordinary athlete.

His success and icon status on the racing field, in spite of his physical disability, has ensured the cameras point in the direction of his trial.

Be that as it may, it leaves a sour taste to see how the two cases are being played out in the media and the public domain. One of the trials has seen acres of media space and plenty of broadcast time, while the other is almost invisible.

It did not help that women’s organisations and female politicians have been more vocal about Pistorius’s case.

We should be careful not to place more weight on one life than another. The agony both the Khumalos and Steenkamps feel is the same.

I was touched to read in another local newspaper that Zanele’s mother, Busi Khumalo, had expressed a wish to reach out to Reeva’s mother, saying: “I feel her pain. If I could, I would sit next to her, hold her hand, tell her I understand. Our pain is so similar.”

Busi Khumalo embodies a true human spirit and one that knows no colour bar. Even in her own pain as a mother who has lost a daughter, she is thinking about the pain of Reeva’s mother, June Steenkamp.

There is a lesson there for all of us on how we should relate to pain and the grief of others.

My prayers go out to the two moms.

It will be to the eternal legacy of Reeva and Zanele if, out of their tragic deaths, we can see efforts to reduce and eliminate femicide being intensified.

The South African Medical Research Council has released a study that shows that every eight hours a woman falls victim to femicide.

This is a crisis and it requires joint efforts by Parliament, the government, law enforcers, the education sector, non-governmental organisations and civil society.

We have to find a solution to the problem of men killing women who are close to them.

In the space in which I operate, we have a lot of educating to do.

A patriarchal interpretation of holy texts has resulted in some seeing women as possessions to be owned and stoned when the men decide women have misbehaved.

We still have some men who invoke religion, custom and tradition to justify violence against women.

Religious institutions are an integral part of most communities and can be used to educate and sensitise boys and grown men about gender-based violence.

Then there is the issue of law enforcement.

Femicide must be made a priority crime and sufficient resources must be allocated to deal with it.

I have heard stories about cases not being properly investigated or reported. The SAPS must be given sufficient capacity to investigate, to ensure a higher conviction rate.

But this will also require the justice system to play its role.

Recently, we have read or heard many stories about policemen using their service firearms to wipe out their families, and then turn the firearms on themselves.

This is not confined to the police service, but extends to ordinary citizens who may own guns. It raises the issue of gun access and control. We need tighter laws.

As we close the second decade of our freedom and democracy, it is a blot on our record that women continue to die at the hands of their intimate partners.

Society must draw the line and declare: this far and no further.

* McCauley is the senior pastor of Rhema Bible Church and co-chairperson of the National Religious Leaders Council.

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