JOHANNESBURG - The news Wednesday that Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to six years in prison for the murder of his girlfriend sent shockwaves through social media, with most commenters reacting with incredulity and outrage at what they considered to be a short term.
The sentence, handed down by Judge Thokozile Masipa, falls far short of the 15-year minimum recommended for murder under South African law, although the act that defines minimum sentences gives discretion to judges.
Ever the deliberate jurist, Masipa explained her reasoning in a lengthy speech Wednesday morning.
She said Pistorius -- who made history for being the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics in 2012 -- is a “fallen hero who has lost his career." She said his request to do community service instead of prison time was a “noble gesture.” And she said a long sentence would not serve the interests of justice.
No sentence she delivered, she said, would satisfy the South African public.
The sentence she did deliver caused outrage on social media. Many South Africans have demanded tough treatment for Pistorius since he was arrested for killing girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in 2013 at his Pretoria home.
Six years, many commenters noted, is just one year longer than the five-year sentence Masipa originally gave him for his original conviction of culpable homicide, which is equivalent to manslaughter.
“There are house songs longer than Oscar’s sentence,” tweeted user Gugulethu Mhlungu.
The original 2014 conviction was overturned last year by an appeals court. That ruling was made shortly after Pistorius was granted parole and released after serving a year in prison.
Pistorius’ brother, Carl, joined the fray on the other side, tweeting: “The record has been set straight and justice done. The truth will always prevail.”
“If Pistorius was black & non-famous, he'd have got life imprisonment. Saved by celebrity status,” tweeted journalist Piers Morgan.
Speaking to reporters, the spokeswoman for the women’s league of the ruling African National Congress party described the sentence as an “insult to women.” The league has been a constant presence at the Pistorius trial and called for harsh punishment for the athlete, for what they consider another example of South Africa’s rampant domestic violence.
It’s unclear how much of the six years Pistorius will actually serve now. He was taken straight to prison after the sentencing.
Now the question is whether the legal proceedings are over. Pistorius’ defense team said Wednesday it does not intend to appeal. The prosecution did not immediately say whether an appeal is in the works.
The entire affair has been a heady mix of sports, celebrity and death. It has also been an eye-opening experience for the South African public and -- because it was the first South African trial to be broadcast live -- an educational one.
At its core, this is a story of a young woman killed in her prime. Reeva Steenkamp died on Valentine’s Day when her boyfriend fired four times through a locked bathroom door. She died on the scene. Pistorius said he mistook her for an intruder.
Steenkamp was a model, a law graduate and an aspiring reality TV star. She was the youngest child in her family and her father testified that he thinks about her constantly even now, three years after her death.
Her parents did not speak to journalists as they left court Wednesday.