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FROM THE ARCHIVE: ANALYSIS

Pistorius to walk free — after chequered justice experience in prison

Pistorius to walk free — after chequered justice experience in prison
Oscar Pistorius appears in the Pretoria Magistrates' Court on 19 August 2013. (Photo: EPA-EFE / STRINGER)

Convicted murderer Oscar Pistorius will leave prison on 5 January 2024 following a decision taken on Friday, 24 November 2023, by the parole board. It concludes a decidedly messy chapter for the South African justice system.

Oscar Pistorius will be freed from the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre on parole on 5 January 2024, having served about eight years in prison for the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

This was the expected decision taken by the Correctional Supervision and Parole Board. Legal papers filed by Pistorius earlier this year to challenge the calculation of his parole eligibility contained endorsements from prison officials testifying to Pistorius’ model behaviour behind bars.

The fact that Pistorius would have to approach the Constitutional Court to confirm what should be fairly basic mathematics is not an impressive look for the Department of Correctional Services.

In addition, the fact that the Constitutional Court ruled in October that the former athlete was actually already eligible for parole in March may have added some behind-the-scenes pressure to get the matter sewn up as soon as possible.

Pistorius’ experience at the hands of the South African justice system has been somewhat chaotic – which should raise serious concerns about what happens to less high-profile, less privileged inmates.

It is easy to forget, for instance, that Pistorius was previously released in 2015 after serving just one year for culpable homicide – the result of the extraordinarily lenient original sentence handed down to him by Judge Thokozile Masipa.

After about six months of house arrest, he was back in prison after the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned Judge Masipa’s culpable homicide verdict and replaced it with a murder verdict. But once again the sentencing was left to Masipa, who extended his original five-year jail term by just 12 months. This, too, was appealed by the state, with the Supreme Court of Appeal eventually imposing a 13-year-and-five-month sentence.

becs-oscar-Nov24

A photograph of Reeva Steenkamp dated  27 June 2012. (Photo: Supplied)

Absolute confusion over parole

Absolute confusion seemed to reign over the question of when Pistorius would become eligible for parole, taking into account the time he had already served. The fact that Pistorius would have to approach the Constitutional Court to confirm what should be fairly basic mathematics is not an impressive look for the Department of Correctional Services.

It has all been very messy. But there’s equally no doubt that Pistorius’ time behind bars would have been far easier and smoother than those of most inmates within the South African penal system. This would particularly have been the case since November 2016, when Pistorius was transferred from the much bigger and grimmer Kgosi Mampuru prison to the Atteridgeville Correctional Centre, a small facility which is specially set up to deal with the needs of disabled inmates, and which only houses offenders sentenced “from 0 to 6 years”, according to the Department of Correctional Services at the time.

Pistorius’ secret jail time

Given the hysterical tenor of the media attention around Pistorius’ fall from grace, the time he has spent in prison has been remarkably shielded from public view.

There is every likelihood that a similar media scrum to that which ensued outside the North Gauteng High Court a decade ago will accompany Pistorius’ January release.

The sole leak occurred in March 2015, when still images and video emerged, showing Pistorius playing soccer at Kgosi Mampuru with Czech gangster Radovan Krejčíř.

That was it – beyond a prison visit paid to Pistorius by his former high school head of house Bill Schroder, which he subsequently discussed with the makers of the controversial documentary series The Trials of Oscar Pistorius, and revealed that Pistorius had grown a beard and taken up smoking.    

Read more in Daily Maverick: Oscar Pistorius faces parole board, and Reeva Steenkamp’s mother – this is what it decided

But if the relative silence around his incarceration may give the impression that media interest in Pistorius has waned, the reaction on Friday to the news of his parole should correct that assumption. Major international media outlets had, in some cases, prominently published the news before South African news sites had even gotten around to it.

There is every likelihood that a similar media scrum to that which ensued outside the North Gauteng High Court a decade ago will accompany Pistorius’ January release. Demand for the first post-prison photograph of the disgraced athlete will be exceptionally high – although the Department of Correctional Services will presumably do everything in its power to try to ensure that he is released as discreetly as possible.

Oscar Pistorius in the Pretoria Magistrates’ Court on 19 August 2013.  (Photo: EPA-EFE / STRINGER)

Pistorius family happiness, Steenkamp agony 

Pistorius turned 37 years old this week. He has spent the majority of the last decade behind bars, believed to have left prison after his re-incarceration on only two occasions: for the funeral of his grandmother, and to attend a victim/offender dialogue with Reeva Steenkamps’ parents in their hometown of Gqeberha in 2021.

The latter was a prerequisite for the future awarding of parole. In a poignant and dignified victim impact statement read out on her behalf on Friday, however, Reeva’s mother June Steenkamp has made it clear that Pistorius will not be walking free with her full blessing.

“I am not convinced that Oscar has been rehabilitated,” she wrote bluntly.

“I do not believe Oscar’s version that he thought the person in the toilet was a burglar. In fact, I do not know anybody who does. 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.”

South African paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius arrives at the high court for the final day of his sentencing in his murder trial in Pretoria on 21 October 2014. (Photo: EPA / IHSAAN HAFFEJEE)

When husband Barry died in September 2023, Steenkamp wrote, she was convinced that part of the cause was a “broken heart” following Reeva’s murder.

“What he meant in my life and the extent of his support have now crystallised into what remains after: an unending black hole of pain and loneliness.”

Read more in Daily Maverick: Reeva Steenkamp murder: ‘Oscar Pistorius should not have had a gun’

There will inevitably now be frenzied speculation about what Pistorius will do upon his release. Will he write a book? Will he devote the rest of his life to working with disabled children as a way to publicly atone? Will he flee the media spotlight to his wealthy Uncle Arnold’s farm in Mozambique, as the family indicated was their intention for him a decade ago?

One can only hope that June Steenkamp, who has lost both her only child and her husband in the space of a decade, will be spared the media hounding to come. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    Unless he can afford an evil life his life is gone for good he will never be normal again,the defense was about not going to jail but the jail inside his body has given him a life sentence due to the lives that have been destroyed

  • Clifton Coetzee says:

    There was never any burglar in the house.

  • Lo-Ammi Truter says:

    The big question is did he gain enough emotional maturity to exercise impulse control so that he, despite his incurable narcissism, at least does not pose a physical danger to other people when he gets upset.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    There isn’t an even remotely competent part of the state remaining. We really have banana’d out.

  • TvT VT says:

    Why only released in Jan if his improvement is “illegally” extended? It should be immediate.
    The criminal system fails treating all equal once again.
    He was found guilty and sentenced like every murderer .
    No problem with that.
    Hope he is rehabilitated but 2 more months wasted won’t change the success or failure of that process inside.

  • James Webster says:

    Steenkamp’s mother could at least assume a patina of grace by acknowledging that her love for her deceased daughter and husband is not contingent upon her vitriolic abhorrence of Pistorius. It seems tacky and infantile of her to demand the continued extraction of justice from Pistorius instead of admitting that he has paid his debt to society and will nevertheless bear the stain of a murder conviction for the remainder of his life. She should try to handle the current situation with a smidgin of finesse instead of acting out the ludicrous poisonous parent role.

    • Middle aged Mike says:

      She disagrees with youa as do I. Hope you never get to test those principles of yours out for real. My Spidey sense says you may come up short.

    • Concerned Citizen says:

      James Webster, son of Merriam

    • David Tuer says:

      Yes, I have the same thoughts, you expressed them very well.

    • Craig A says:

      She has every right to hate him. He got off lightly for killing her defenseless daughter in cold blood as she begged for her life.
      My bet is that he is going to become a celebrity and will write a book and do the public speaking thing. I hope not; I hope he gets the same treatment that OJ Simpson got.

    • nima egumbo says:

      Hope your turn comes soon…

    • Jess M. says:

      What a deeply unkind thing to say.
      This woman has lost both of her immediate family members.
      She is in pain, and the cause of it, just walked free.

      Is there a pretty way to grieve or be angry??

      But to reiterate the thoughts of the previous reply.

      When darkness comes knocking on your corner, make sure to greet it with a warm smile and ”a smidgin of finesse instead of acting out the ludicrous poisonous parent role.”

      You deeply unkind individual.

    • William Kelly says:

      Insensitive much?

  • Guy Reid says:

    Can’t let Pistorius out early and still claim victory for violence against women.
    Can’t have cheap alcohol and an NHI.
    Can’t have cadre deployment and electricity at eskom. The list is endless…
    Some things in life are mutually exclusive.
    SA leaders are so deficient in common sense it’s scary.

  • ilike homophones says:

    well, i was wrong:
    i said from the beginning he will be in jail a max of 5 years

    same as cohen,
    who killed his wife susan in the late 70’s,
    also in a rage
    never admitted anything,
    was set free after 5 years

  • Fuad XXX says:

    No parent should be dished what the Steenkamp’s have received via an infantile gun-toting narcissist. I do not think he can be compared to any other human, as Cohen, for instance elsewhere. What I remember from TV was his lack of responsibility for the deed.

  • mike van wyk says:

    I hope Pistorius is haunted by his brutish savagery for every moment of the rest of his miserable natural life. All the evidence pointed towards a narcissist who harboured deep demons in the corners of his mind. The evidence points to Reeva voicing her wish to end a rather nasty relationship; for which she paid with her life due to a ‘man’ who could not contain his rage.
    He should have served every minute of the sentence. I certainly hope that no women will touch him with a barge pole.

  • Vanessa R says:

    He killed …. and not in self defense but on purpose out of possesive/destructive feelings, this girl was so beautiful and amazing that he knew he could never compare. PUT HIM BACK IN JAIL.

  • FarFrom TheCrowd says:

    So much for analysis. Some editorial oversight please DM? The man is not “walking free”, he is continuing his sentence, in fact, he is still an inmate. He cannot “flee” to Mozambique or anywhere else, he will be under strict monitoring and not be allowed to leave Pretoria. He might be able to work, he might even be able to see a doctor, but he will not be able to do any of that without informing his monitoring official. He will get very limited free time. He won’t be “released” from prison, he is being transferred from prison, in fact he will not even be able to walk out of the prison gates. The process of his “rehabilitation” will continue as it not by any means complete at this time. And if he does not meet those strict monitoring requirements, depending on the number of mistakes he is allowed to make, his parole can be revoked at any time. There is rightly or wrongly, very little additional freedom him. His sentence is not finished, as correctly quoted in the Washington Post “Parole does not mean the end of the sentence. It is still part of the sentence.” Even when the court imposed years of it is finished, he will only add ex-convict to his credentials in the eyes of society and so he will never be free. The facts can never lessen the pain, but there can be some attempt to ensure that factual “analysis” occurs so that the pain is not increased with false claims such “walk free” and “release” and about inmates “fleeing” the country.

  • Richard Blake says:

    His conviction and jail term showed how broken our judicial system is. We continue to see violent criminals receive bail and courts with low conviction rates. He should never be released. A life for a life.

  • Fiona Ronquest-Ross Ronquest-Ross says:

    My heart goes out to Reeva’s mother. We become widows when our husbands die, wives when we marry… but there is no word in the English dictionary for a mother who has lost a child. There is simply the unspeakable ever-present grief and sadness of being a mourning parent. My prayer for her is to find a supportive community and get peace in her heart. I respect her dignity and grace.

    • T'Plana Hath says:

      The word ‘Vilomah’ comes from Sanskrit, which is one of the oldest languages in the world, dating back to about 400 BC. The same language gave us the word “widow,” which means “empty”. The term Vilomah means “against a natural order”. It was introduced by Duke Professor Karla Holloway when she realized that there was no single word to describe the loss of her child. The term is now gaining acceptance to describe a parent who has lost a child.

  • Gavin Larkin says:

    Disgusting this murderer is not serving the full or appropriate sentence for taking the life of Reeva.

  • Lew Lipschitz says:

    How can Pistorius literally walk free…can someone explain?

  • Leslie van Minnen says:

    Life is cheap in this country. My son was murdered over 20 years ago and I had to advise the police what they should have done or investigated to catch the perpetrators. Well I am still waiting.
    Now convicted murderers are released on parole.

  • Robert Pegg says:

    Is SA really a banana republic, I think so. I came to SA in 1975 with a wife and 2 children. Many Brits came out at the same time. They came for a better life and when riots broke out in 1976 most went back for a safer life. We stuck out, I had no choice. I was a firefighter in the UK and once you leave, they never take you back. Eventually I became Chief Fire Officer of East London. I resigned in 1997 and started my own business. At the risk of telling you my life story, I always defended SA to relatives and friends in the UK. I was happy in 1994 and voted for change. I needn’t have bothered because the country has got worse. I am now considering moving to Mauritius, if I can convince my wife. We are going on a “look see for 10 days soon”. I run my business from home, so I can do the same in Mauritius. I pay 28% tax to a stealing, useless government. I will pay 15% business tax in Mauritius. If I export any products I pay 3% tax, it’s a no brainer. We have a family apartment in Umdloti so we can pop over when we feel like it. I don’t see any changes, even if we get a coalition government. They will spend hours, and take minutes of the meetings, arguing over positions. It will be a shambles. I’ll be sorry to leave, but the boats sinking, and I need to get in a lifeboat.
    P.S. I was in the Royal Navy for 8 years in the 1960’s, so I know when a boat is sinking.

  • Neil Wesson says:

    The only remorse that has been been shown is for the situation that Oscar put himself and his family in. This despicable family felt nothing for the victim. Disgraceful.
    Oscar will be a pariah and hated for the rest of his life by the whole world and by most South Africans. Oscar is still young. Hopefully he lives a long, lonely, miserable life.

  • Jo Van says:

    I am astounded by the absolute certainty of 100% of the people leaving comments, that Oscar deliberately and knowingly shot through the door to kill Reeva. I read the whole summary by Adv Barry Roux and felt convinced that Oscar’s version had a high probability of being accurate and true. The judge also believed him and hence convicted him of manslaughter with a light sentence. I unfortunately have no trust and faith in the Appeal Court and I am aware of rulings they have made which were entirely free from common sense and quite absurd in my view. I also fear that they messed up this case about Oscar and that they were probably motivated by political considerations and media hype. The consequences of the shooting were dreadful for everybody involved, and also for Oscar, especially if his version was true. Then he lost a precious girlfriend by his own actions and his life as a financially well-off famous athlete, a celebrity and free person, was over.

    • William Dryden says:

      Hi Jo Van, I totally agree with your comments, I also believe that the state prosecutor Nel was playing to an international audience and was determined to get a murder conviction at all costs, hence his aggressiveness in his prosecution of Oscar.

    • William Dryden says:

      Hi Jo Van, I totally agree with your comments, I also believe that the state prosecutor Nel was playing to an international audience and was determined to get a murder conviction at all costs, hence his aggressiveness in his prosecution of Oscar.

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