Race plays a part in the Oscar verdict
(Editor: Alex Smit-Stachowski is a South African journalist and speaking in her column about the country of her birth. She had lived in Krefeld, in North Rhine-Westphalia/ Germany).
Having followed and written about the Oscar Pistorius trial when the acclaimed Paralympic athlete shot and killed his blonde model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day in 2013, it was with sad horror that I heard the sentencing imposed on him by Judge Thokozile Masipa – a mere six years for her murder.
Media reports state that, “The mandatory minimum sentence for “normal” murder is 15 years – except for repeat offenders, where the minimum is longer”.
So after the courts determined this was murder and that Oscar shot Reeva through a locked door with tailormade bullets designed to cause maximum hurt and then broke down the bathroom door with a baseball bat – he gets a mere slap on the wrist and not the stipulated sentence.
It could also be that Oscar Pistorius is a famous white athlete with money who could afford the best lawyers and was given acting lessons during his trial – and this was why he got a much lighter sentence.
SABC TV journalist Vuyo Mvuko was on air when he was robbed on live TV by two black men. The robbers who did not have pricey lawyers and were coincidentally black – were sentenced to 15 years!
Comments from my multiracial office after the verdict included, “Unbelievable! So it’s ok to murder someone but better not rob them!” and “It was because he was white. If he had been black, they would have thrown away the key…” and “Where’s the justice in South Africa? If I was Reeva’s parents I would be causing hell right now.”
One can’t expect the deep-seated practice of Apartheid to have dissipated after a mere 22 years. Many still believe being white means you are better than being black – that blacks can’t be trusted or can’t rule – and I have heard this from black people personally, who believe – “It was better under the whites,” so even if it is a black judge, one can’t assume that he or she will be totally race neutral.
It took many years for Germany to shake off the shackles of Nazism and its insidious perceptions and will take as long for South Africa to truly accept all on the same level – no-one should get preference – all the same in the eye of the law. Until then, we must continue striving for this.