Long walk to freedom for Oscar Pistorius

Oscar Pistorius in the Gauteng High Court. File

Oscar Pistorius in the Gauteng High Court. File

Published Dec 29, 2023


Shortly after 3am on Valentine's Day in February 2013, the life of Paralympian hero Oscar Pistorius changed dramatically after he fired four shots through the toilet door in his Silver Oaks, Pretoria East mansion, killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

In a few days, on January 5, he will be released from jail, after spending slightly more than seven years behind bars.

The then-State prosecutor advocate, Gerrie Nel, during the Oscar Pistorius trial. File

While he will be free from the prison in Atteridgeville, west of Pretoria, which had been his home since 2016, he will not be a totally free man.

Correctional Services has made it clear that, as is the case with others released on parole, there would be conditions attached to his freedom.

While the final conditions have not been made known, the department said Pistorius would be monitored by a parole officer, would not be able to leave the province without permission and would have to undergo anger management courses.

But life will never be the same for the blade runner following the death of his model girlfriend.

On February 13, 2013, Pistorius spent the evening in his home with Steenkamp. In the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day, he shot and killed her. At the time the shots were fired, she has been inside the locked toilet.

In his explanation of plea during his trial, Pistorius described the incident as a tragic one which had occurred after he had mistakenly believed that an intruder or intruders has entered his home.

Pistorius explained: “During the early hours of the morning, I brought two fans in from the balcony. I had shortly spoken to Reeva who was in bed beside me.”

Advocate Barry Roux representing Oscar Pistorius during the trial. File

“Unbeknown to me, Reeva must have gone to the toilet in the bathroom, at the time when I brought in the fans, closed the sliding doors and drew the blinds and the curtains.

“I heard the bathroom window sliding open. I believed that an intruder or intruders had entered the bathroom through the bathroom window which was not fitted with burglar bars.

“I approached the bathroom, armed with my firearm so as to defend Reeva and I. At that time, I believed Reeva was still in bed.”

Arnold and Lois, the uncle and aunt of Oscar Pistorius, during the trial. File

He said he had been in a “fearful state”, knowing that he was on his stumps, unable to run away or properly defend himself physically.

He had then fired the four shots, which had lasted mere seconds but had changed his life forever.

The State’s case was that Pistorius and Steenkamp had argued and he had intentionally shot and killed her.

To support its case, the State called Estelle van der Merwe, a resident at the same complex as Pistorius, who had awoken a few minutes before 2am to hear what she had thought was a woman’s voice.

To her, it had sounded as if the woman was arguing with someone. She could not, however, locate the voice nor tell what language was being spoken or what was being said.

Shortly after 3am, she had heard what she thought were gunshots.

A couple who lived in an adjacent complex about 177m away from Pistorius’s house, heard screams that they interpreted as those of a woman in distress.

Another witness who lived in the same complex as Pistorius, about 80m away, she thought she had heard gunshots. A few minutes later, she and her husband had heard someone crying out loud and a man shouting for help.

Pistorius’s immediate neighbours had heard a bang. Soon thereafter, they had both heard a man crying loudly. He had been saying “help!”

A neighbour, who is also a doctor, had rushed to Pistorius’s house and witnessed him carrying the bloody Steenkamp downstairs. By then, she had been dead.

Pistorius’s trial, which lasted several months, was unlike any other. While he appeared calm for most of the trial, Pistorius vomited on the six day of the trial, as forensic expert Dr Gert Saayman testified about her injures, and made use of graphic pictures of her injuries.

Another emotional moment was when Pistorius walked around the crowded courtroom on his stumps. That was to prove the defence’s stance that he was vulnerable in dangerous situations and his ability to defend himself was impaired – unless he had a gun in his hand.

Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Gerald Versfeld, who has known Pistorius since he was a baby and who amputated both his lower legs, testified about his vulnerability.

Pistorius was on his stumps when he fired the four shots through the toilet door.

Judge Thokozile Masipa said the evidence had proved that Pistorius had acted negligently when he had fired through the toilet door, knowing that there was someone behind the door and that there was little room in which to manoeuvre.

“A reasonable person therefore in the position of the accused, with similar disability would have foreseen that possibility, that whoever was behind the door might be killed by the shots and would have taken steps to avoid the consequences and the accused in this matter failed to take those consequences,” she said.

She convicted him of culpable homicide and sentenced him on October 21, 2014, to five years imprisonment, of which he needed to serve a sixth before he was released to serve the remainder at home.

Judge Thokozile Masipa presided over the Oscar Pistorius trial. File

Pistorius was released on October 19, 2015.

But that was far from the end of his woes.

The State successfully appealed his conviction before the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA), and Judge Masipa again sentenced him – this time to a six year jail sentence for murder.

Aimee Pistorius, the sister of Oscar Pistorius, also attended the trial. File

The State yet again appealed.

This time, the SCA imposed a sentence of 15 years but reduced it to 13 years and five months as he had served a portion of the sentence under the culpable homicide conviction.

But what followed was a confusion over how much time he had spent in jail and whether he was eligible for parole.

In March (2023), the parole board turned down Pistorius’s parole hearing and said he was not yet eligible for parole.

His legal team turned to the Constitutional Court, which confirmed that he had served half his term (the requirement to be considered for parole) by March 21 this year (2023).

Another parole hearing was held at the end of November (2023). Three days after his 37th birthday, Pistorius received the news that his parole application was successful and that he would be released on January 5.

June, mother of Reeva Steenkamp, regularly attended court proceedings. File

Pistorius will return to his uncle Arnold Pistorius’s Waterkloof home, where he will serve the remainder of his jail sentence.

While Steenkamp’s mother, June Steenkamp, did not oppose Pistorius’s parole hearing, she said in a statement read out to the parole board that she did not believe Pistorius’s version that he thought the person in the toilet was a burglar.

June did not attend the parole hearing but Rob Matthews, the father of murdered Leigh Matthews, read her statement to the media.

Steenkamp said in the statement that she had forgiven Pistorius long ago as she knew almost instantly that she would not be able to survive if she had to cling to her anger.

She said she also did not think anyone believed Pistorius’s version of events following the 2013 Valentine's Day killing of Reeva.

“My dearest child screamed for her life; loud enough for the neighbours to hear her. I do not know what gave rise to his choice to shoot through a closed door four times at somebody, with hollow-point ammunition, when I believe he knew it was Reeva,” she said.

“I do not know which rehabilitation programmes were attended by Oscar while incarcerated, but I sincerely hope that his rehabilitation included psychotherapy to deal with his temper and abusive behaviour towards women.

“I also hope that specialist criminologists were engaged to assist in compiling a psychological profile that would assist in determining his risk for recidivism.

“At this time, I am not convinced that Oscar has been rehabilitated.”

June added: “My dear Barry (who died in September 2023 due to ill health) left this world utterly devastated by the thought that he had failed to protect his daughter and, therefore, in his role as a father, as he perceived it.

“The only hope he had left was that Oscar would find it in himself to eventually tell the full truth.”

But in the end, June’s lawyer, Tania Koen, said June accepted the fact that Pistorius would be released on parole and that at least he would have to undergo an anger management course as part of his parole conditions.

Pretoria News

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