Women's rights groups in South Africa have called for proceeds from a reality television show featuring Reeva Steenkamp, whom Paralympian Oscar Pistorius is accused of murdering, to be donated to charity. The first episode of Tropika Island of Treasure was broadcast last night on South African state television, SABC, despite the death of the 29-year-old model and contestant in a shooting at the athlete's house on Thursday.
"If this programme is to be aired it should help the cause of women and children suffering from violence," Stubbs Maluleke, from South Africa's Sonke Gender Justice Network, said. "It would be very short-sighted of the producers to refuse."
Despite criticism of exploitation in some quarters, and the production company's failure to consult Ms Steenkamp's family, the celebrity challenge programme filmed in Jamaica in November was shown in a prime-time slot last night.
Samantha Moon, executive producer of the show and owner of the Johannesburg production company, Stimulii, said her firm was "in no way seeking to exploit" the model's murder and that airing the programme was the best "tribute" to Ms Steenkamp. At the same time, however, Mrs Moon was charging news outlets $3,000 each to broadcast a short clip from the television show – with at least a dozen networks buying rights.
A Cape Town-based group calling itself "RIP Reeva" condemned the decision: "Let's be honest, the only reason SABC and the producers are going ahead with the broadcast of this show is because of the increase in exposure and viewership they'll be getting.
"Not saying they should have scrapped the broadcast entirely, just delayed it, at least until after her funeral. I hope they informed her family of their plans."
Mrs Moon insisted she had spoken with family members: "They want it on. This is how they want to remember her," she said. "This is what she would have wanted."
The support group said producers should make a donation "in her name to a charity" suggesting women's rights group People Opposing Women Abuse (Powa). A spokesman for Powa partner group Lifeline, which runs emergency helplines for abused women, said they would "support calls for proceeds from the show to help causes Reeva herself had supported."
But the dead woman's cousin, Sharon Steenkamp, said the family had not been consulted by anyone from the show or SABC about the decision to broadcast. She said her cousin, whose body is being flown to her home town of Port Elizabeth, had been proud of the show. "Her last words to us personally was that she wants us to watch it," she said.
Speaking at Samantha Moon's luxury mansion home in the upscale neighbourhood of Sandown, her husband Graeme said any queries over profits from the Tropika show should be addressed to SABC. But a spokesperson from the South African broadcaster said the programme's proceeds were an issue for the production company to address.
The show was paid for by the soft drinks company Tropika, whose profits are expected to increase on the back of record ratings for the series.
The programme features a half-dozen South African celebrities competing in elimination challenges with the winners of a competition run by Tropika. The series, in its fifth outing but on SABC for the first time, was expected to break all previous ratings records last night.
Katleho Molai, 24, a contestant, said: "I don't feel like people should be using this to make money off her death." But she had not opposed the broadcast because she "wanted people to see the real Reeva".