Upcoming release of Oscar Pistorius gets mixed reactions in Pretoria

Former Olympic runner Oscar Pistorius will be released from prison on January 5, after being granted parole on Friday (Nov. 24).

The decision taken by the parole board at Atteridgeville Correctional Centre in South Africa drew mixed reactions in Pretoria.

“It is his constitutional right to get this parole. He has been long incarcerated,” Pretoria resident Simon W. said. 

“I think he has been rehabilitated back into the society. He has served his sentences like any other person. The law have taken its course, he needs to come back to the society and continue with his career.”

Pistorius has been in jail since 2014 for the Valentine’s Day 2013 killing of model and girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

In a nation with some of the world’s highest levels of violence against women, the board decision is uncomprehensible for Karabo S. says.

“From my side, I feel it’s too early and it’s wrong. Considering the fact that in South Africa, as women, we live in fear. Men are no more scared, you know, to kill, to rape, just because they know in a few years or even a few months, they’re released and then they do it again, they’re released, do it again. So I don’t know what kind of example they’re setting.”

Pistorius’ parole hearing was his second in the space of eight months. Mahlohonolo N. says she understand the tough decision the panel members were faced with: 

“I believe that if I was in the shoes of the board members (deciding on Oscar Pistorius’ parole), it would also be difficult for me to say as a human being, yes, you deserve a second chance. But again as a mother and you know, I have lost my child and somebody has to come back to their parents and provide for them, whereas I will not have any more. So for me, yeah, I’m just neutral. I don’t know.”

After his liberation next year, he will be constantly monitored by parole officials for five yearsuntil his full 13-year, five-month sentence for murder ends in December 2029, the Department of Correctional Services said.

Valentine’s Day 2013

In the decade since Oscar Pistorius pulled the trigger four times on his 9mm pistol, firing into the head and body of Reeva Steenkamp as she stood inside a locked toilet cubicle in his home, the vital question has still never been answered: Did the world-famous Olympic runner know he was shooting at and killing his girlfriend that Valentine’s Day in 2013?

Pistorius has always claimed that he didn’t, that he mistook her for an intruder in his home. Steenkamp’s family believes he intended to shoot the 29-year-old model and law graduate after becoming enraged in a nighttime argument.

Only Pistorius really knows for sure what he did.

The man who turned 37 this week, will have served just under nine years in prison when he’s let out. Serious offenders in South Africa must serve at least half their sentence to be eligible for parole.

Pistorius, who had his lower legs amputated as a baby and became a champion athlete, was ultimately found guilty of murder in Steenkamp’s shooting on a principle of law called dolus eventualis. It means he knew the person — whoever it was — would likely be killed when he shot through that door in a bathroom in his Pretoria villa, and went ahead anyway. It’s comparable to third-degree murder in the U.S.

But when South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeal delivered that ruling after overturning a lesser manslaughter conviction, it didn’t find that Pistorius knew it was Steenkamp and intended to kill her. It also didn’t accept his argument that he was shooting in self-defense at what he thought was a threat to him.

It was a kind of somewhere-in-the-middle that sent Pistorius to prison for longer than his original five-year sentence for manslaughter, but it may leave complete closure elusive forever for the people that mattered most after the killing — Steenkamp’s family.

“An unending black hole of pain”

As Pistorius attended his parole hearing at a prison in the South African capital of Pretoria on Friday (Nov. 24), the words of Reeva Steenkamp’s mother, June, rang out outside the jail gates.

They were not delivered by June Steenkamp herself, but by a family friend who read out a statement on her behalf. The statement was submitted to the parole board considering Pistorius’ early release, but was also made public to ensure that June’s voice was heard, and her daughter was remembered.

June Steenkamp said the rest of her life threatens to be “an unending black hole of pain and loneliness” after yet another loss, that of her husband and Reeva’s father. Barry Steenkamp died in September. June Steenkamp said she still believed Pistorius was lying about the killing, but had managed to forgive him as “I would not be able to survive if I had to cling to my anger.”

She said she and Barry had “big dreams” for Reeva, who also was an activist fighting the scourge of violence against women in South Africa — a tragic precursor to her own death.

“Were our dreams for Reeva fulfilled?” June Steenkamp said. “Of course not.”

She said she did not believe Pistorius had been rehabilitated because he still refused to admit to “the dastardly murder of Reeva.” She only wanted him to one day come clean, she said.

June Steenkamp’s statement was delivered by Rob Matthews, a South African man whose own daughter was murdered in 2004 and who had become a family friend to the Steenkamps, united in the pain of their losses. Matthews noted that Pistorius’ parole was granted a day before the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Pistorius will be released to live at his uncle’s mansion in an affluent suburb of Pretoria. Most of his life is still likely ahead of him, even if his once-inspiring image has been shattered forever.

Steenkamp family lawyer Tania Koen encapsulated it when she spoke about Pistorius’ possible release earlier this year and if it was right. She said that no prison sentence for him, no matter how long, would ever really make any difference to Steenkamp’s family after her death.

“For them, it’s a life sentence,” Koen said.