Oscar and Thembikile: Unequal justice in South Africa

Oscar Pistorius. Photo: Themba Hadebe Oscar Pistorius was due to be released on parole from the Kgosi Mampuru II prison this Friday.

His possible release to house arrest, once again questions the inequalities in the justice system of South Africa.

Pistorius was convicted of killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, last year. He was found guilty of culpable homicide despite prosecutor’s pursuing charges of first degree murder. In his defence, Pistorius claimed that he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder and so he was acting in self-defence. He was sentenced to five years but he will likely be paroled after only 10 months due to good behaviour.

In the same prison, two months ago a man strode out of prison after being wrongfully convicted 11 years ago. Thembekile Molaudzi, a taxi driver from Soshanguve, was arrested in 2002 after a co-accused falsely identified him as one of the suspects.

“Molaudzi, a former taxi-driver, was reliant on over-worked Legal Aid lawyers provided by the State while Pistorius, an affluent celebrity, had access to some of the best legal minds in the country,” Carolyn Raphaely, a Wits Justice Project Senior Journalist said.

Legal Aid are lawyers who are tasked with representing poor people who cannot afford to pay for their own representation. But they are often not able to properly defend their clients, something Pistorius did not have to worry about.

While Molaudzi was struggling to access the transcripts of his trial and having his Legal Aid lawyers fail him repeatedly, Oscar Pistorius had his trial quickly concluded with a very strong legal team with the tenacious Barry Roux as the lead.

The fact that Pistorius had a speedy trial was also a sign of the special treatment that might have been afforded him. According to Wits Justice, many people wait years for their trials to begin.

“A third of the South African prison population is locked up awaiting trial, many for years. Yet approximately two in five of these people will eventually be acquitted.”

“A third of the South African prison population is locked up awaiting trial, many for years. Yet approximately two in five of these people will eventually be acquitted.”

Molaudzi received life imprisonment for murder and robbery and the eleven years he spent wrongly imprisoned were traumatic ones.

Molaudzi reported that he and fellow prisoners were “made to strip naked and tortured by warders for no reason. We were made to squat up and down in front of females with our genitals showing for everyone to see. They shocked us with shock-shields, just for fun. And they klapped me because they said I was a gangster.”

In Pistorius’ case, prison officials recommended that he be released due to good behaviour.  According to Stephan Terblanche of the University of South Africa, the state’s prisons are overcrowded, so parole boards regularly recommend correctional supervision which includes house arrest.

The National Prosecuting Authority have filed an appeal against Pistorius’ culpable homicide conviction in the hope that it will be changed to murder which would result in a longer sentence. The appeal will be heard in November.

Pistorius media frenzy

Disability no excuse for Pistorius: Witsies

Members of the Wits disabled community have expressed dismay over the fall from grace of Oscar Pistorius and say the Paralympian should not get special treatment because of his disability.

Pistorius was arrested on February 14, for the killing of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

His earlier successes on the track have made him an inspiration to people living with disabilities.

Ricardo De Sao Joao, a Wits master’s student living with a disability, said the news is especially shocking because disabled people are seen as meek and subdued when all they want is to be treated equally.

“One of the main issues about Oscar’s situation is whether he should get special treatment because he is disabled or famous. In the eyes of the law he should be treated in the same way as anybody else,” said De Sao Joao.

De Sao Joao, who is an international relations student, said some things are inescapable when you live with a disability.

“You will never be considered normal, if anything this incident shows that disabled people are prone to anger issues just like anybody else,” he said.

Mthokozisi Ndaba, a first year BA student living with a disability, said he felt sorry for Pistorius because his life had been changed forever.

“His disability might have made him feel vulnerable at the time but he shouldn’t use his disability to get special treatment in court now,” said Ndaba.

Ndaba said that for him, as someone living with a disability, special treatment would be “two steps forward and ten steps back”.

Steenkamp was shot in the head, arm, hand and hip. According to City Press, Pistorius’ father received a call from his son just after 3am on Thursday, asking him to come to his house.

When his family arrived, Oscar was carrying Steenkamp’s body down the stairs from his bedroom to the entrance hall. Her head and arms were “dangling”. He allegedly told his sister, Aimee, that something terrible had happened and that he had mistaken Steenkamp for a burglar.

Police sources told the paper that Steenkamp was shot through the bathroom door. It is argued by Barry Roux, Pistorius’ defence lawyer,  that the athlete broke down the bathroom door to help Steenkamp after he mistakenly shot her.

According to the state prosecutor Gerry Nel, Steenkamp had arrived at the house between 5pm and 6pm on Wednesday night, February 13. He argued there were no signs of forced entry or evidence to support Pistorius ‘claims that he mistook Steenkamp for a burglar.