Oscar Pistorius after his sentencing, where he was ordered to serve five years in prison. Photo: Reuters
The debate raging over the sentencing of Oscar Pistorius this week has been fierce. Despite Pistorius admitting he fired the four shots that killed Reeva Steenkamp, he is expected to serve only 10 months in jail. To some people that represents an outrage. To others – a surprisingly large number of others – justice has been served.
"Few doubted that the rule of law had been upheld and justice done," wrote The Telegraph's Mary Riddell, while The Independent's Tom Peck said: "Those who see Reeva Steenkamp's death as a feminist call to arms are wrong." Peck, who sat through the trial, added, "However appalling Pistorius's actions, it should be recognised that he killed his girlfriend in a wild, reckless and obscenely macho attempt to protect her."
Perhaps. But let me pose a question that may shed some light on why the death of Reeva Steenkamp has indeed become a feminist "call to arms". Imagine for a moment that Oscar Pistorius had not shot Reeva Steenkamp. But, instead, that Reeva Steenkamp had shot Oscar Pistorius.
Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp. Photo: AFP
Let's invert the facts and - more important - the gender of the case. Let's go back to that Pretoria courtroom and, under the steely gaze of Judge Masipa, prosecute The People versus Reeva Steenkamp.
Steenkamp, we learn, is a woman who loves guns. She is described as a "crack shot" whose mantra is "always know your target". She owns six guns, including a pump-action shotgun, a semi-automatic rifle and a .38 revolver. She is fond of using bullets she calls "zombie stoppers".
That may seem strange to you and me. But, as her defence points out, this is South Africa, a society cursed by crime. A country where 500,000 rapes are committed every year.
The 10-month sentence given to Oscar Pistorius for the killing of Reeva Steenkamp can justifiably be seen as a feminist call to arms.
As the trial goes on, we learn more about Reeva Steenkamp. She not only loves her guns, but has a tendency to be reckless with them. She's in the habit of blasting off a few rounds through the sun-roof of her car, for fun. She horses around with them. Once, she accidentally caused one of her guns to discharge in a restaurant, narrowly missing one of her friends.
A new picture of the former television presenter and model begins to emerge. Steenkamp is a jealous woman. We discover she would fly into a rage merely at the sight of other women speaking to her partner. We learn Pistorius became so concerned about her behaviour that he had sent her texts expressing his worry that her jealousy and bullying were going to destroy their relationship. And we learn that only a week before she shot her boyfriend dead, Steenkamp had become enraged by him speaking to another woman at a party.
But this is not out of keeping with Steenkamp's character. The court hears how she is an unstable woman. She feels the pressure: pressures of fame; of a life of constant media scrutiny; of being one half of one of the most celebrated couples in South Africa.
As we watch the case unfold, we see that instability. As she begins to give her evidence, we see it all too graphically: she weeps; she cries out; she breaks down; she vomits in the courtroom.
But we see something else. We see that her evidence is contradictory, evasive and self-serving. "A poor witness" as the judge later describes her.
And then we hear her defence. An incredible defence.
She wakes up in the bed she has shared with Pistorius countless times before. She hears a noise coming from the bathroom. For some reason, her immediate thought is that it might be not her partner, but an intruder. She claims she turns to him, and tells him to wake up, even though he is not actually there. Then she rises, picks up one of those guns she loves so much, and makes her way tentatively to the toilet.
She doesn't intend to kill, she claims. Just to protect herself and the man she loves. But then, from the toilet, comes a sound.
Bang. Bang. Bang. Bang. She fires four shots. And behind the door, Oscar Pistorius, national – international – sporting icon, lays dead.
Justice, we are told, is blind. But in this case, does anyone honestly believe that? Does anyone seriously think that if a woman – rather than a man – had acted the way Pistorius acted that night, the verdicts would have been the same?
A jealous women. An unstable women. A weeping woman. A screaming woman. A vomiting woman. An evasive woman. A contradictory woman. A bullying woman. A gun-toting woman. A woman who pumped four "zombie stoppers" into the body of a defenceless South African folk-hero. She would have been acquitted of murder? And in 10 months would she have been released?
Of course, in reality, Reeva Steenkamp was none of those things. It's Oscar Pistorius who is the gun-lover. Steenkamp knew how to fire a gun, but she didn't worship them. It's Pistorius who was shown in court to be the evasive, jealous bully. Steenkamp, according to friends, was, "beautiful, intelligent and warm-hearted". It's Pistorius who confessed to struggling with the demands and pressures of his fame. Reeva Steenkamp, the law graduate, was comfortable with the celebrity she had acquired even before she started dating him.
But she was a woman. And he is a man. So she is dead. And this time next year, Oscar Pistorius will be free.