Oscar Pistorius to be freed from jail next week amid outcry over lenient sentence

Pistorius's release comes during 'Women’s Month' in South Africa, with the issue of violence against women highlighted in civil society campaigns

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The Independent Online

Six days from now, Oscar Pistorius will once again be free to visit Johannesburg where, once, he fired a weapon at Tasha’s restaurant and asked a friend to take the blame. A month later, he fired another gun. This time only he could be blamed.

After just 10 months in prison for killing his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, Pistorius, the “blade runner” whose feats inspired a generation of athletes, will leave the small ward at the maximum security Kgosi Mampuru II prison on Friday. Once his period of virtual house arrest at his uncle’s mansion in the Pretoria suburb of Waterkloof is over, he should not expect a warm welcome in his old stomping ground.

In the city yesterday, Thulani Nkosi, 28, a security guard, was standing in the car park of Melrose Arch, a shopping centre with shops, offices, hotels, apartments and restaurants (including Tasha’s). He was surprised to learn that Pistorius would soon be out of prison: “It seems that trial was just yesterday,” he said. “The money is talking. He must stay in jail. He must pay for what he did.”

Pistorius’s release comes during “Women’s Month” in South Africa, with the issue of violence against women highlighted in civil society campaigns. While Pistorius has a devoted band of international supporters, many South Africans are anticipating the athlete’s release with dismay – and a certain measure of weariness given the intense media attention that was focussed on his trial last year. 

 

“Brace yourself,” said a recent tweet. “Frivolous Oscar Pistorius news coming soon.” Underlying the discomfort is a common sentiment here that Pistorius benefited from preferential treatment, thanks to his fame and family fortune.

Family and friends of both Pistorius and Ms Steenkamp have mostly declined to comment on his release. But in a letter submitted to the parole board, Ms Steenkamp’s parents said: “Incarceration of 10 months for taking a life is simply not enough.”

Kelly Phelps, a criminal justice lecturer at the University of Cape Town, said that Pistorius’s release to correctional supervision was in line with standard criminal justice practice. Pistorius, having spent time in prison, was “sentenced on the harsher end of the spectrum” compared to similar cases of culpable homicide, in which a person was killed out of the mistaken belief they were an intruder.

“It appears that the public discontent with his sentence is connected to the fact that many people still believe he murdered Steenkamp,” she said. “However, after engaging with the evidence presented, that was not the finding of the court.”

Supporters of Pistorius have launched an online campaign compiling motivational messages and pictures to “welcome him home and back to society”. But the 28-year-old could find himself back behind bars soon, depending on the outcome of the state’s appeal of his conviction.

It is due to be heard in November by a panel of judges at the Supreme Court of Appeal in Bloemfontein. 

Prosecutors are arguing that Pistorius should have been convicted of murder, challenging last year’s ruling by Justice Thokozile Masipa as being too lenient.

If the culpable homicide conviction is overturned, Pistorius would face a minimum sentence of 15 years in prison. The state has until August 28, a week after Pistorius’s release date, to file application papers outlining its appeal.

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