Oscar Pistorius sentence and Twitter's conflation of jail time with Reeva Steenkamp's 'life worth'

Is a valuation of life not a veiled suggestion for death?

Christopher Hooton
Tuesday 21 October 2014 12:33 BST
Reeva Steenkamp is "another woman obliterated by male violence"
Reeva Steenkamp is "another woman obliterated by male violence" (Getty Images)

As Judge Masipa delivered Oscar Pistorius's sentence for the death of Reeva Steenkamp today, the Twitter users who weren't posting lines from it like quotes from a soap opera were busy trying to contextualise his jail time.

It's probably fair to say that among the misinformed (that's all of us who weren't in the courtroom for every second) the consensus was that five years was insufficient, in comparison to other cases. But more problematically, the sentence was seen as somehow reflecting the "worth" of Reeva Steenkamp's life.

"Reeva Steenkamp's life is only worth 5 years?!? Something so wrong with the world we live in"; "Sorry Reeva that the judge thought your life was only worth 5 years"; "Lighting a candle for Reeva, which is more than South African Justice believes she was worth" they bayed, as #nojustice began trending worldwide.

That Reeva Steenkamp was an innocent woman who died in tragic circumstances and far too early is beyond doubt, but equating a prison sentence with the value of someone's life is dangerous logic.

If her glorious life needs to be reflected in Pistorius's punishment, then are these people not calling for his inglorious death?

"A human life of Reeva's quality is worth more than five years by far" one aghast onlooker wrote, apparently suggesting that a life of lower "quality" is somehow less of a tragedy, a view that echoes many in the West's treatment of Africans with Ebola.

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