News / Africa

Reporter's Notebook: Inside View of Pistorius Bail Hearing

  • Oscar Pistorius's lawyers Barry Roux (L) and Brian Webber prepare documents before the start of the application to appeal some of his bail conditions at a Pretoria court, March 28, 2013.
  • State prosecutor Gerrie Nel prepares for a hearing in the Pretoria, South Africa high court, March 28, 2013.
  • February 22, 2013: Oscar Pistorius in court in Pretoria, South Africa for his bail hearing.
  • Relatives of Oscar Pistorius hug each other ahead of proceedings at the Pretoria magistrates court February 22, 2013.
  • Reeva Steenkamp's casket arrives ahead of her funeral ceremony in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, February 19, 2013.
  • Feb. 19, 2013: Carl Pistorius, right, and Henke Pistorius, the brother and father of Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, charged with the shooting death of his girlfriend attend Oscar's bail hearing at the magistrate court in Pretoria, South Africa.
  • Investigating officer Hilton Botha, the lead detective in the Pistorius murder case, during a break in proceedings, February 21, 2013.
Anita Powell
The shooting death of model Reeva Steenkamp by her boyfriend, Olympic superstar Oscar Pistorius, riveted South Africa and the world last week as millions tuned into his dramatic bail hearing. The five-day proceedings captivated the world and brought journalists from every corner of the globe.

I was in the middle of it as VOA’s new Southern Africa reporter. And all I have to show for it is a sparkly disco wristband, and a headache.

Courtroom mood

Hundreds of journalists alongside me crowded in front of the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court every morning at the crack of dawn last week for one of the holographic plastic wristbands that would gain us entry to the hot, stuffy courtroom.

The trial has been called a media circus. I think that might insult circus animals. They know how to behave themselves.

There was shoving. There was yelling. There was crying. There was even fainting. And that was just among the press corps.

But in the brighter moments, there were also touching scenes of collegiality, many a shared sandwich, and a lot of jokes my boss will not let me say on air.

Olympic athlete, Oscar Pistorius , in court Friday Feb. 22, 2013 in Pretoria, South Africa, for his bail hearing charged with the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
Olympic athlete, Oscar Pistorius , in court Friday Feb. 22, 2013 in Pretoria, South Africa, for his bail hearing charged with the shooting death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.
In the radio corner at the front of the courtroom, a dozen of us were hopelessly entwined in a web of cables, buried under a mountain of snacks, kit bags, and water bottles and enveloped in a cloud of our collective body odor. Your VOA correspondent shrieked involuntarily at several points. That's not because of the testimony -- which was riveting -- but because our admittedly dangerous daisy chain of power strips kept shocking me.

But don’t feel sorry for me. There’s nowhere I’d rather have spent my week. You see, as VOA’s new southern Africa reporter -- I started full-time just days before Oscar Pistorius shot dead his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s day -- it’s rare that my stories get quite this much international attention. Yet the Pistorius bail hearing managed to roll many of South Africa’s hot-button issues into one, explosive story.

Olympian sprinter Oscar Pistorius posing next to his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, Jan. 26, 2013.
Olympian sprinter Oscar Pistorius posing next to his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, Jan. 26, 2013.
Pistorius case embodies South Africa's many issues

First there is crime. This is a violent and dangerous country -- some say it’s the legacy of decades of inequality and the product of an overburdened police force and few legitimate economic opportunities for the legions of unemployed. It’s an issue that hangs over everyday life in this country, and one that permeates much of our coverage of this nation.

Then there is the legal system.  Recently, I reported the story of two men who spent nearly two decades in prison for an apartheid-era crime they swear they didn’t commit. Their case languished for years because of the nation’s slow, lumbering legal system -- and they are not alone. The spokesman for the National Prosecuting Authority tells me the Gauteng branch -- which covers Johannesburg and Pretoria -- has more than 100,000 pending cases. Pistorius’ crack legal team managed to push his case through faster than most, and that did not escape the attention of his critics who accused him of using his privilege to manipulate the system. But what about the countless others?

Oscar Pistorius awaits start of court proceedings while his brother looks on, Feb. 19, 2013.
Oscar Pistorius awaits start of court proceedings while his brother looks on, Feb. 19, 2013.
Then there is Oscar Pistorius himself. He was a symbol of stunning achievement despite unbelievable setbacks. For many South Africans, his struggle to overcome his own limitations run parallel to the nation’s struggle to overcome its own deep wounds. Now, he has become a symbol of something else -- some say he’s an example of how the elite still have free reign in this deeply divided society.

And then, whether Pistorius’ lawyers want to be associated with this or not, there is the unrelenting tide of violence against women. This was perhaps best illustrated by the senseless gang rape and brutal killing of a South African teenager earlier in February. Pistorius’ slain girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp has become the face of this issue. A woman or girl is raped in this country every four minutes. The victims include babies and old women. And among those who survive, a stunning statistic -- more than 90 percent of women here have been emotionally or physically abused.

And then, finally, there is us. Journalists became a major part of this story when we took en masse to Twitter and gave the world minute-by-minute updates of the proceedings because recording wasn’t allowed in the courtroom. It was a great reminder to South Africa and to the world of the valuable role of the fourth estate.  

So the headache was worth it.

Follow Anita Powell on Twitter @6armspowell

You May Like

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Video Kenyans Lament Al-Shabab's Recruitment of Youths

VOA travels to Isiolo, where residents share their fears, struggles to get loved ones back from Somalia-based militant group More

This US Epidemic Keeps Getting Worse

One in 4 Americans suffers from this condition More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensionsi
X
May 26, 2015 11:11 PM
When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs