REEVA STEENKAMP MURDER
What does the future hold for convicted murderer Oscar Pistorius after talk of parole eligibility?
The convicted murderer is now eligible for parole, after serving more than half his sentence in prison. But what could the future possibly hold for the golden-boy athlete who fell from grace so spectacularly?
‘These questions are irrelevant as inmate Oscar Pistorius has not been considered for parole placement.”
With these words, the clearly irritated Department of Correctional Services spokesperson, Singabakho Nxumalo, dismissed DM168’s queries about the potential parole of Pistorius. The reason for his annoyance was not hard to guess: since News24 reported last week that Pistorius was eligible for parole much earlier than anyone had guessed, the department has been bombarded by local and international media demanding clarity on the matter.
It is a telling indication that the passage of almost seven years since Pistorius was first convicted of murder has not dimmed the world’s interest in the former Paralympic star.
Nxumalo was engaging in a bit of a game of semantics. The parole process for Pistorius may not yet have formally begun, but there are indications that preparations are being made. Barry and June Steenkamp, the parents of Pistorius’s victim, Reeva Steenkamp, had been asked to ready themselves to meet with the athlete ahead of a possible parole hearing in October. That has now been cancelled in confusing circumstances, but it has been confirmed that Pistorius has been technically eligible for parole since July.
It was originally calculated that the inmate would only come up for parole in 2023, but it has now emerged that this failed to take into account the time already served in jail – 503 days – by the time the Supreme Court of Appeal handed Pistorius an extended sentence of 13 years and five months in 2017.
The Blade Runner, in other words, could be walking out of prison any day now. That is, of course, after the parole process is undertaken. The parole board will consider various factors, including where Pistorius would live while on parole, and will also hear input from affected parties like the Steenkamps.
Criminal lawyer Ulrich Roux told DM168 that the usual conditions for parolees would apply to Pistorius if parole is granted. These include having to check in with the Community Corrections Office regularly, potentially carrying out some form of community service, and being confined to home if not at work. It is also likely that he would be prohibited from drinking alcohol.
The athlete’s uncle, Arnold Pistorius, who supported him throughout his 2014 trial, has told You magazine that Oscar would return to live with Arnold and his wife Lois in Pretoria. The family lives in a palatial triple-storey converted rectory in the upmarket suburb of Waterkloof, which is where Pistorius stayed during the trial. Absent will be Pistorius’s siblings, who have since moved overseas: sister Aimée now works in finance in London, and brother Carl is pursuing business interests in Houston, Texas.
Life in general appears far more prosperous for the Pistorius family than the Steenkamps. You reports that the bar and restaurant Barry and June Steenkamp owned in Gqeberha, the Barking Spider, has closed as a result of the financial toll inflicted by the Covid-19 lockdown.
Pistorius’s family has indicated that it is unlikely that Oscar will return to professional athletics. “Sprinters don’t come back if they haven’t participated for 10 years,” Arnold Pistorius told You.
Pistorius would not have been able to do any meaningful training in prison. One of the few glimpses of his life behind bars, offered by an interview with one of his prison visitors in the 2020 documentary The Trials of Oscar Pistorius, produced the news that Oscar had taken up smoking in jail – suggesting that he has not been preparing for a return to athletic form.
With his sponsors having speedily deserted him within weeks of the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp in 2013, it is highly unlikely that Pistorius would be able to attract high-profile brands to work with him again. Over 2011 and 2012, he trained in the northern Italian town of Gemona after signing an agreement to do so. Gemona was quick to cancel the contract with Pistorius after he was accused of murder.
When it comes to re-cultivating his international ties, a bigger problem for Pistorius will be his limited ability to travel. Many countries prohibit the granting of visas or entrance to convicted felons, particularly for as serious a crime as murder. Those who have served more than three years of jail time are likely to be refused entry to Europe’s Schengen Zone, meaning that Italy is probably out of the question. Crimes involving “moral turpitude” – of which murder is assuredly one – prohibit one’s entry to the US and Canada.
Famously, American celebrity homemaker Martha Stewart was banned entry to the UK in 2008 after serving just five months in prison for obstructing justice in 2004. At the time, a representative of the British Borders Agency said: “We continue to oppose the entry to the UK of individuals where we believe their presence in the United Kingdom is not conducive to the public good or where they have been found guilty of serious criminal offenses abroad.” There is no indication that the stance has changed since.
Rebuilding trust is going to be Oscar Pistorius’s biggest challenge, and I fear the prognosis for rebuilding this specific value is very slim to zero.
One country that may be more forgiving is Mozambique. Arnold Pistorius owns tens of thousands of hectares of land along the Mozambican border, under the company Twin City, which also has an office in Maputo. In 2013, when Oscar was awaiting trial, his family petitioned the court to allow him to travel to Mozambique to allow him to hide out on the family farm and avoid the media spotlight. This would not initially be an option for the athlete, because parole conditions would involve surrendering his passport, but it’s a safe bet that Mozambique may feature in his future.
Some have speculated that Pistorius’s next move might involve the publication of a remorseful book reiterating his claim that he did not know Reeva Steenkamp was behind the bathroom door he blasted through on Valentine’s Day 2013, and giving an empathy-inducing account of his time in prison. This would be impossible in countries such as the UK and the USA, Roux explained to DM168, where legislation exists to prevent convicted criminals from profiting from the publicity of their crimes – through the publication of a book, for instance, or a speaking tour.
“In South Africa, there is no law currently that I have been able to locate which makes similar provision to prevent the profiting from a crime,” Roux said. “As such, a person convicted of an offence will not be prohibited from writing a book or memoir in the current legislative sphere.”
Pistorius’s major problem, however, will be a largely unforgiving public. Even his own uncle predicted, at the end of The Trials of Oscar Pistorius, that public perceptions of Oscar can “never be fixed”. As soon as Pistorius was arrested, high-profile PR firm Vuma Reputation Management was contracted to try to mitigate the fallout. Post-prison, will there be a similar attempt to professionally massage his reputation?
Rachel Irvine, CEO of Cape Town-based PR firm Irvine Partners, told DM168: “Irvine Partners would decline to represent Mr Pistorius and I believe that would be true of most reputable public relations firms in South Africa”. (This may not be accurate: DM168 asked six well-known PR firms for comment and only two assented, suggesting that the other four might be holding out in case of an impending Pistorius contract.)
“Rebuilding trust is going to be Oscar Pistorius’s biggest challenge, and I fear the prognosis for rebuilding this specific value is very slim to zero,” Regine le Roux, managing director at Reputation Matters, told DM168. Le Roux acknowledged that other sports stars embroiled in scandal had successfully rebuilt reputations, such as golfer Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, but said she believed Pistorius’s chances were much lower because of his association with murder.
“I am sure the advice he is getting is to launch a charity or foundation or non-profit of some sort to leverage off,” Le Roux said. “This may work to some extent, but it is important that it is done for the right reasons.”
A similar cautionary note was struck by Irvine. “Should he wish to rehabilitate his public image, my advice to him would be to live an authentic life of good works and community service without cameras being on hand to record his actions,” she said.
“While granting parole implies that his debt to society has been paid, his debt to Reeva Steenkamp’s family can never be repaid. Given that, any courting of the media spotlight post-release would be in extremely poor taste.” DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.