He’s the O.J. Simpson of South Africa–a gifted athlete charged with cold-blooded murder.
For Oscar Pistorius, life began as a struggle, on November 22, 1986. Born with fibular hemimelia (congenital absence of the fibula) in both legs, at 11 months old, he was forced to undergo the amputation of both legs below the knee.
But still he persisted to lead an active–even an extraordinary–life. As a child and teenager, he played rugby union, water polo and tennis, and took part in Olympic wrestling.
After a serious rugby knee injury, Pistorius was introduced to running in January, 2004, while undergoing rehabilitation at the University of Pretoria’s High Performance Centre.
Fitted with racing blades, he has been dubbed “Blade Runner” and “the fastest man with no legs.” He took part in the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens and came in third in the 100-metere event.
In summer, 2012, he became the first double leg amputee to participate in the Olympics, winning gold medals in the men’s 400-metre race and the 4 X 100 metres relay.
And then, having achieved so much against so much adversity, he found himself facing trial for a ghastly crime:
The February 14, 2013 murder of his 29-year-old girlfriend, model and paralegal Reeva Steenkamp, whom he shot three times through a locked bathroom door.
Pistorius claims he thought Steenkamp was a nighttime intruder. The state alleges that he and his girlfriend argued before her death and he intentionally killed her.
His trial opened on March 3 in Pretoria, South Africa. A conviction on the murder charge in South Africa would carry a mandatory life sentence.
Throughout South Africa, women believe the odds are high that Pistorius will escape justice for murder owing to his sports celebrity status. And they may well turn out to be right.
- According to one study, South Africa has “the highest rate [of violence against women] ever reported in research anywhere in the world.”
- Statistically, a woman gets raped in South Africa every four minutes. Only 66,196 incidents were reported to police in 2012 and their investigations led to only 4,500 convictions.
- The murder of Pistorius’ girlfriend happened one day before she planned to wear black in a “Black Friday” protest against the country’s disgracefully high number of rapes.
- “If data for all violent assaults, rapes and other sexual assaults against women are taken into account, then approximately 200,000 adult women are reported as being attacked in South Africa every year,” said Lerato Moloi of the South African Institute for Race Relations.
- The real figure is considerably higher, she said, since most cases never are reported.
The rate of murders of women in South Africa is equally appalling:
- A woman is killed by an intimate partner every eight hours in South Africa.
- No perpetrator is identified in 20 percent of killings, according to a study published by the South African Medical Research Council.
- That is double the rate of such murders in the United States.
In assessing what’s at stake in the Pistorius trial, Niccolo Machiavelli sounds a warning:
In The Discourses, his seminal work on how to preserve freedom within a republic, Machiavelli warns: “Well-ordered republics establish punishments and rewards for their citizens, but never set off one against the other.”
The soldier, Horatious, he writes, had saved ancient Rome from the Curatti. But when he murdered his sister, he was put on trial for his life.
While Rome might seem guilty of ingratitude, writes Machiavelli, “the people were to blame rather for the acquittal of Horatius than for having him tried.
“And the reason for this is, that no well-ordered republic should ever cancel the crimes of its citizens by their merits….
“Having established rewards for good actions and penalties for evil ones, and having rewarded a citizen for good conduct who afterwards commits a wrong, he should be chastised for that without regard to his previous merits.”
A state that adheres to this principle will retain its liberty; a state that doesn’t will quickly be destroyed.
For if a citizen who has rendered eminent service to the nation becomes convinced that he can commit any wrong without fear of punishment, ”he will in a little while become so insolent and overbearing as to put an end to all power of the law,” writes Machiavelli.
Americans learned the truth of this after the 1995 acquittal of O.J. Simpson for the slasher-murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown, and a waiter-eyewitness, Ronald Goldman.
In September, 2007, he led a group of men into a hotel room at the Palace Station casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, and, at gunpoint, seized sports memorabilia which he claimed had been stolen from him.
He was arrested and eventually convicted for criminal conspiracy, armed robbery, kidnapping and assault with a deadly weapon.
On December 5, 2008, Simpson was sentenced to 33 years in prison with the chance of parole in nine years, in 2017.