It’s hard not to take South African double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius’ murder sentence last week as an insult to women.
Last week, the athlete affectionately dubbed the Blade Runner for competing on carbon fibre blades in the 2012 Olympics, was given six years jail time for murdering his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, 29, in 2013.
The minimum sentence for murder in South Africa is 15 years. Pistorius, though, received only six – which will likely end up as three years behind bars – after trial judge Thokozile Masipa said she believed there were mitigating circumstances that should reduce his time in prison.
In sentencing Pistorius, Judge Masipa said Pistorius “is a fallen hero and can never be at peace,” adding, “the life of the accused shall also never be the same.”
Really? What about the lives of Steenkamp’s family and friends? Her parents who will never get to see their daughter marry or have children of her own. Her friends who now only have memories to count on.
I can’t help but think that if Pistorius was not an affluent, white, attractive athlete who garnered worldwide attention – and sympathy – during the Olympics because of his disability, that I wouldn’t be writing this column.
After all, Pistorius was convicted of senselessly murdering Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day three years ago after firing four bullets through the bathroom door with Steenkamp on the other side.
Pistorius said he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder in his home and he shot through the bathroom door in a fit of self defence. The prosecution’s version of events is a lot more sinister – that the couple had allegedly been arguing and Steenkamp had locked herself in the bathroom to protect herself from a gun-wielding man with a violet temper.
Either way, Pistorius believed someone was in the bathroom and fired his gun intending to either kill or seriously hurt whoever was in there.
To get only six months in jail for such a violent crime – taking the life of another human being – is outrageous.
It’s also sadly all too predictable. It seems almost commonplace that high-profile, rich athletes receive lenient sentences when it comes to abusing women.
Who can forget the video of NFL running back Ray Rice hitting his then fiancee into unconsciousness? The footballer had charges dropped against him after he agreed to court-supervised counselling.
Of course that wasn’t murder. But to try and put Pistorius’ case into perspective, let’s look at previous South African judgments.
In 2015 a man was sentenced to 15 years in prison for stealing sheep, while Pistorius gets six years for murder.
And just weeks ago, two men were sentenced to 15 years jail time for robbing a television broadcast crew on air in Johannesburg.
To me, the whole South African legal system is flawed.
Why was the same judge who tried Pistorius the first time, and found him guilty of the lesser charge of culpable homicide and sentenced him to five years prison time, allowed to sentence him a second time?
Judge Masipa’s original ruling was overturned by the South African Supreme Court of Appeal. After Pistorius was found guilty of the greater charge of murder, why did it again fall to Masipa to come up with Pistorius’ sentence? Does it not stand to reason that Masipa would come up with a similar sentence to try and justify her initial decision?
A South African women’s rights group has been quick to brand Masipa as “an embarrassment to the justice system” and deemed Pistorius’ sentence “an insult to women in this country.”
I have to agree. What has this world come to? This sentence is a dangerous and scary example for women everywhere.