JOHANNESBURG - Disgraced superstar athlete Oscar Pistorius sits in a jail cell in Pretoria, reportedly refusing to eat prison food because of threats from fellow inmates. But the mother of the woman he killed two years ago says she, too, is suffering. June Steenkamp talked about her book - and her daughter, Reeva Steenkamp - in a rare media appearance in Johannesburg.
Steenkamp says she plans to start a charity to help victims of domestic abuse - but she repeatedly refused to say whether such abuse was part of her daughter’s relationship with her killer, superstar athlete Oscar Pistorius.
The pair had been dating for about three months when Pistorius shot Steenkamp dead at his Pretoria home on February 14, 2013. Pistorius says he mistook Steenkamp for an intruder when he shot four times through a locked bathroom door, killing her. In the ensuing murder trial, the prosecution attempted to portray the runner as a rage-filled, irresponsible gun fanatic. His defense countered that his status as a double amputee in crime-ridden South Africa made him feel constantly paranoid and afraid.
While she and Reeva’s father, Barry, were a regular presence in court during Pistorius’ murder trial, the couple rarely spoke to the eager throng of international media. The high-profile trial polarized and riveted not just South Africa, but the world.
In the dark
Steenkamp said she was aware of some problems in her daughter’s relationship, but refused to say whether she was aware of any abuse.
“I did not know he had guns or was shooting them out of cars, or his lifestyle in the fast lane. I knew nothing of that," she said. "Reeva was afraid, I think, to tell me, some of the problems. She did say they were fighting all of the time, but you don’t tell your mother everything.”
Steenkamp says she hopes some attention will be paid to " the real story": the untold suffering of countless women who endure abuse from their partners.
Domestic violence is worryingly common in South Africa - some advocacy groups say that one South African woman is killed every six hours by her partner. Steenkamp says her daughter was horrified by those figures and wanted to help.
“I don’t want people to forget Reeva and what she stood for," she said. "She was terribly taken up by strong feelings of doing something to help abused women. And I want to carry on that work for her.”
She said the charity is still in the planning stages.
Steenkamp has said before that she forgives Pistorius for her daughter’s death, but her face contorted in pain when she recounted what she would say if she had a chance to speak to the athlete.
“I wouldn’t ask him anything,” she responded. “I would ask him maybe to consider what he’s done to Barry, my husband, and I. He’s taken the most perfect wonderful daughter out of our lives, he’s killed her. ... She will never have a baby for us, our grandchild. She will never have a wedding and the white dress. He’s taken her career, he’s taken her life away. That’s what I would say to Oscar if I came face to face with him.”
In October, Pistorius was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment for culpable homicide, which is equivalent to the U.S. charge of manslaughter. Under South African law, he is required to serve a minimum of 10 months in prison - which puts him roughly halfway through that sentence.