State Prosecutor Gerrie Nel cross-examines the pathologist during the murder trial of Oscar Pistorius at the High Court in Pretoria. Picture: Themba Hadebe

Pretoria - It was only a few minutes into prosecutor Gerrie Nel’s cross-examination of pathologist Jan Botha when my friend messaged: “Is being rude the only way to win a criminal trial?” he asked.

Defence advocate Barry Roux’s “I put it to you” pales in comparison to what Nel had been putting out.

“I ask questions – you answer them,” he had told Botha. He corrected the witness by telling him: “It’s not you may be wrong, you are wrong.”

When Botha protested, “I’m not here to win the case or lose the case for either the State or the defence”, Nel replied “I beg to differ”, implying Botha had simply aligned his testimony to suit Oscar Pistorius’s version.

When Nel had been building the State’s case, he was unassuming. He seemed like the poor cousin of Roux, who media monitoring company Data Driven Insight found had received nearly three times the amount of attention.

Roux had been like a disappointed father in cross-examination, patronising the witness and almost offering the opportunity to say they were wrong almost kindly.

On Monday, Nel was quite the opposite. Like an excited playground bully, he hopscotched from question to question at a rapid pace, dotting his way with sarcasm and snide remarks.

Like Roux, Nel is simply doing his job – taking the testimony of the witness and subjecting it to scrutiny.

“I’m not unfair, I’m testing it (your version),” he said.

“Yes,” Botha said.

“Then answer the question,” said Nel.

The next to answer Nel’s questions will be a man who also had his first day to flex his muscles readily on Monday – Pistorius. There has been a lot of talk about how a duel between Pistorius and Nel will go down, as winning this round may make or break the case for either side.


After making a tearful apology to the Steenkamp family, Pistorius got down to laying down some of the major themes that could help his defence.

He said he was plagued by nightmares “to the point I’d rather not sleep than wake up like that”.

He talked about his childhood and his mother’s death. There was pride in his voice when he spoke about his athletics career and charity work. After so many weeks of being this silent, sobbing figure, he made himself seem human again as he talked about his dogs.

He played on his disability – how he had never let it rule him and how it affected him, saying: “I’m shy about (my prostheses), embarrassed about them when I don’t have them on.”

Many saw what he had to say as simply trying to garner sympathy. Judge Thokozile Masipa did seem to have been taken in when she allowed court to adjourn early.

Whether the court will look favourably on what Pistorius has to say has yet to be seen. First, he must get past Nel.

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The Star