A member of the African National Congress Womens League wears a picture with the ace of the late Reeva Steenkamp while attending Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius' murder trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, Wednesday, 5 March 2014. Pistorius is on trial for murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his suburban Pretoria home on Valentine's Day last year. He says he mistook her for an intruder. Picture: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters/Pool

Johannesburg - The ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) has defended its decision to support Reeva Steenkamp in the Oscar Pistorius murder trial, saying this was because of the “celebrity status of the alleged perpetrator and victim”.

A group of women clad in the green, yellow and black of the women’s league have been protesting outside the Pretoria High Court since the beginning of the trial last week. The Paralympian has admitted to the murder, but insisted it was in self-defence because he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder.

The ANCWL sought to dismiss accusations that its presence in court was nothing but a cheap political ploy to garner votes ahead of the May 7 general election. It said its backing for Steenkamp was part of its 365 days of activism against violence on women and children.

“This case is no different. It happens that it (the case) has greater focus on it due to the celebrity status of the alleged perpetrator and victim,” said Angie Motshekga, the league’s president and minister of basic education.

Addressing journalists at ANC’s Luthuli House headquarters in Joburg on Monday, Motshekga said support for Steenkamp was part of the league’s “long-held view of consistent and unapologetic support for victims and their families through difficult times, whether these are covered by the media or not”.

“The ANC Women’s League has historically maintained this, not only in high-profile cases such as those of Francis Rasuge, Amina Lawal, the Modimolle Monster and many others, but also which have involved ordinary women far from the public eye.”

She also denied accusations that the league was prejudging Pistorius, reiterating that the backing for Steenkamp was to highlight the violence against women and children as society could “no longer accept the fate of women as victims of violent men”.

Motshekga said women of all races continued to die at the hands of the people they loved. She said although women still had difficulty accessing justice, the government had done a better job in the Steenkamp case.

She expressed concern that other similar cases were not treated with the urgency they deserved.

Earlier on Monday, President Jacob Zuma handed the prestigious badge of Isithwalandwe to struggle veteran Getrude Shope.

The Order of Isithwalandwe/Seaparankoe was conferred on Ruth Mompati and Shope in January. It is the highest honour awarded by the ANC in recognition of those who made an outstanding contribution and sacrifices to the liberation struggle.

“Uyabonake (you see), this is complicated. The SG (secretary-general Gwede Mantashe) did not show me how to put it,” Zuma quipped as he put the badge on Shope’s shirt. Shope showed mixed emotions as she received the Order, saying she wished the honour could be bestowed on many other women.

The Star