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

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Goodbye, New York

This is what the fastest-growing big cities in America have in common More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years 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.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs