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

Australia-Cambodia Resettlement Agreement Raises Concerns

Agreement calls for Cambodia to accept refugees in return for $35 million in aid and reflects Australia’s harder line approach towards asylum seekers and refugees More

India Looks to Become Arms Supplier Instead of Buyer

US hopes India can become alternative to China for countries looking to buy weapons, but experts question growth potential of Indian arms industry More

Earth Day Concert, Rally Draws Thousands in Washington

President Obama also took up the issue Saturday in his weekly address, saying there 'no greater threat to our planet than climate change' 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.
Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?i
X
Steve Sandford
April 17, 2015 12:50 AM
Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Are Energy Needs Putting Thailand's Natural Beauty at Risk?

Thailand's appetite for more electricity has led to the construction of new dams along the Mekong River to the north and new coal plants near the country's famous beaches in the south. A proposed coal plant in a so-called "green zone" has touched off a debate. VOA's Steve Sandford reports.
Video

Video Overwhelmed by Migrants, Italy Mulls Military Action to Stabilize Libya

Thousands more migrants have arrived on the southern shores of Italy from North Africa in the past two days. Authorities say they expect the total number of arrivals this year to far exceed previous levels, and the government has said military action in Libya might be necessary to stem the flow. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Putin Accuses Kyiv of ‘Cutting Off’ Eastern Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin, in his annual televised call-in program, again denied there were any Russian troops fighting in Ukraine. He also said the West was trying to ‘contain’ Russia with sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports on reactions to the president’s four-hour TV appearance.
Video

Video Eye Contact Secures Dog's Place in Human Heart

Dogs serve in the military, work with police and assist the disabled, and have been by our side for thousands of years serving as companions and loyal friends. We love them. They love us in return. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on a new study that looks at the bio-chemical bond that cements that human-canine connection.
Video

Video Ukrainian Volunteers Search for Bodies of Missing Soldiers

As the cease-fire becomes more fragile in eastern Ukraine, a team of volunteer body collectors travels to the small village of Savur Mohyla in the what pro-Russian separatists call the Donetsk Peoples Republic - to retrieve bodies of fallen Ukrainian servicemen from rebel-held territories. Adam Bailes traveled with the team and has this report.
Video

Video Xenophobic Violence Sweeps South Africa

South Africa, long a haven for African immigrants, has been experiencing the worst xenophobic violence in years, with at least five people killed and hundreds displaced in recent weeks. From Johannesburg, VOA’s Anita Powell brings us this report.
Video

Video Sierra Leone President Koroma Bemoans Ebola Impact on Economy

In an interview with VOA's Shaka Ssali on Wednesday, President Ernest Koroma said the outbreak undermined his government’s efforts to boost and restructure the economy after years of civil war.
Video

Video Protester Lands Gyrocopter on Capitol Lawn

A 61-year-old mailman from Florida landed a small aircraft on the Capitol lawn in Washington to bring attention to campaign finance reform and what he says is government corruption. Wednesday's incident was one in a string of security breaches on U.S. government property. Zlatica Hoke reports the gyrocopter landing violated a no-fly zone.
Video

Video Apollo 13, NASA's 'Successful Failure,' Remembered

The Apollo 13 mission in 1970 was supposed to be NASA's third manned trip to the moon, but it became much more. On the flight's 45th anniversary, astronauts and flight directors gathered at Chicago's Adler Planetarium to talk about how the aborted mission changed manned spaceflight and continues to influence space exploration today. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.
Video

Video Badly Burned Ukrainian Boy Bravely Fights Back

A 9-year-old Ukrainian boy has returned to his native country after intensive treatment in the United States for life-threatening burns. Volodia Bubela, burned in a house fire almost a year ago, battled back at a Boston hospital, impressing doctors with his bravery. Faith Lapidus narrates this report from VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko.
Video

Video US Maternity Leave Benefits Much Less Than Many Countries

It was almost 20 years ago that representatives of 189 countries met at a UN conference in Beijing and adopted a plan of action to achieve gender equality around the world. Now, two decades later, the University of California Los Angeles World Policy Analysis Center has issued a report examining what the Beijing Platform for Action has achieved. From Los Angeles, Elizabeth Lee has more.
Video

Video Endangered Hawaiian Birds Get Second Chance

Of the world's nearly 9,900 bird species, 13 percent are threatened with extinction, according to BirdLife International. Among them are two Hawaiian honeycreepers - tiny birds that live in the forest canopy, and, as the name implies, survive on nectar from tropical flowers. Scientists at the San Diego Zoo report they have managed to hatch half a dozen of their chicks in captivity, raising hopes that the birds will flutter back from the brink of extinction. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Exhibit Brings Renaissance Master Out of the Shadows

The National Gallery of Art in Washington has raised the curtain on one of the most intriguing painters of the High Renaissance. Mostly ignored after his death in the early 1500s, Italian master Piero di Cosimo is now claiming his place alongside the best-known artists of the period. VOA’s Ardita Dunellari reports.
Video

Video Sidemen to Famous Blues Artists Record Their Own CD

Legendary blues singer BB King was briefly hospitalized last week and the 87-year-old “King of the Blues” may not be touring much anymore. But some of the musicians who have played with him and other blues legends have now released their own CD in an attempt to pass the torch to younger fans... and put their own talents out front as well. VOA’s Greg Flakus has followed this project over the past year and filed this report from Houston.
Video

Video Iran-Saudi Rivalry Is Stoking Conflict in Yemen

Iran has proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Yemen, but the idea has received little support from regional rivals like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Tehran of backing the Houthi rebels, who have forced Yemen’s president to flee to Riyadh, and have taken over swaths of Yemen. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA, analysts say the conflict is being fueled by the Sunni-Shia rivalry between the two regional powers.

VOA Blogs