Those who see Reeva Steenkamp's death as a feminist call to arms are wrong

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

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The Independent Online

“Know your target and what lies beyond.”

They were the damning words, written in Oscar Pistorius’s own handwriting, in his firearms competency examination.

If the horrific death of Reeva Steenkamp and its 20-month aftermath should instruct us of anything, it is to be sure we know what we are firing at before we pull the trigger.

Those who look at this case and see a tale of domestic violence, who clamour to use it as an excuse to “tell another story” about crimes against women, aren't bothering to check what's behind the door.

And yet, despite the judge - herself a woman, and one with an almost unmatched track record in standing up for the downtrodden - making abundantly clear there is not one scrap of evidence to support the notion that Oscar Pistorius knew he was firing at Reeva Steenkamp, and plenty to suggest he didn’t - his terrible tale is now being all too predictably dovetailed in with every wife beater, spouse killer and rapist out there. Even, in many cases, Ched Evans. He is nothing of the sort.

There are, of course, millions out there who are certain this was a deliberate murder, who will never be convinced Pistorius believed he was shooting at an intruder. I have met many of these people, and they have one thing in common - they do not know what they are talking about.

Whenever people ask me about this case (I spent several months in that courtroom, covering it for The Independent), the one thing that consistently strikes me is not how many people don’t believe Pistorius’s story, but how few who even know what it is.

Why didn’t he call out "Reeva, is that you in there?" is the most common question. Answer: He did.

Why did she stay silent? Why didn’t she say "Oscar it’s me, put the gun down", is the other. Answer: Because (he says) she was hiding in fear from the intruder he was shouting at. She didn’t know the intruder was in fact her.

In a tiny courtroom in a tiny town, it’s hardly surprising that the journalists and legal analysts from around the world got to know each other rather well as the trial wore on and on and on. At the start, around the various restaurant tables booked for 20 or more almost every single night, the prevailing view was that clearly he had shot her on purpose. “He is a psychopath, I’ve known it all along,” said one correspondent of international renown who shall remain nameless.

Those who disagreed were mocked as being "Team Pistorius" or "Pistorians". (I did a fair amount of the mocking myself.)

Except, as the trial wore on, everyone slowly became a Pistorian.

The angle of the bullets through the door, all but confirming that if he shot her deliberately and in anger, he did so from a ridiculously acute angle, consistent with not wanting to reveal his position, or move within the perceived intruder’s range of fire, was a particular clincher.

Then there were the “blood-curdling woman’s screams” too, heard from nearly 200 metres away, that can only possibly have been heard long after Reeva Steenkamp had been fatally shot in the head.

There is not a single person left out there, in my view, who knows what they are talking about, who thinks he knew it was her.

Oscar Pistorius has been quite rightly jailed for culpable homicide. His actions were so reckless and so negligent he deserved a prison sentence. He was fortunate in the extreme to escape a conviction on second degree murder. There may yet be an appeal.

But for those for whom this is just another tale of violence against women, it is worth noting that, had he indeed opened the bathroom door and found an intruder lying there dead, who it’s fair to hypothesise would have been a man, Pistorius would likely be out on the running track now, preparing for Rio.

Who among us isn’t guilty of looking at what goes on around them and seeing it as confirmation of their own views? The Pistorius case has certainly confirmed many a pre-held belief on handguns - that they are too dangerous to be allowed in the home.

To use this case as the jumping off point to “tell the other story” about domestic violence in South Africa and around the world, about its unacceptable levels of ‘intimate femicide’, is just to idly conflate men with guns. That men too, are just inherently violent and dangerous, and that Reeva made a mistake simply in being in the same house as one. There is some truth in that argument, but it is not a very constructive one.

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. He is not a domestic abuser. If this was an ‘intimate femicide’, it was in name only.

Know your target, and what lies beyond.

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