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Oscar Pistorius: Another Celebrity With A Get-Out-Of-Jail Free Card

On January 5, 2024, former Olympic sprinter, Oscar Pistorius, was released from prison on parole after serving nine years for the murder of his girlfriend back in 2013. His release was met with a lot of public questioning as to whether his celebrity status granted him more privilege or not. The short answer is yes, it has.

Who is Oscar Pistorius?

Oscar Pistorius was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in November of 1986. As an 11-month-old baby, Oscar had both legs amputated due to having fibular hemimelia, a condition in which the fibular bone is either partially or fully missing from the leg. Despite being an amputee, Pistorius would go on to become one of the most famous athletes in the world. 

After being extremely sporty from a young age, Oscar Pistorius suffered from a knee injury, which halted his extra-curricular activities, until he started running. The people around him soon realised that Oscar was a runner, and with that, he started his sporting career. 

During the 2004 Summer Paralympics in Athens, Greece, Pistorius set a world record in the 200-metre race with a time of 21.97 seconds. He went on to beat his own record during the Paralympic World Cup in 2005, receiving two gold medals for the 100 and 200-metre races. He quickly gained his nickname ‘Blade Runner’. 

At the 2008 Summer Paralympics in Beijing, China, he broke two world records - running 100 metres in 11.16 seconds and completing the 200-metre race in 21.67 seconds, again beating his own record. 

Oscar left the Beijing Paralympics with three gold medals or a ‘hat trick’ in the world of sports. Four years later, he became the first amputee runner to compete in Olympic running at the 2012 London Olympic Games. 

He carried South Africa’s flag during the closing ceremony, taking a silver medal home with him. He also competed in the 2012 Paralympics, winning two gold medals and one silver. Oscar Pistorius was on top of the world, but that all changed a few months later. 

The Death of Reeva Steenkamp

Valentine's Day of 2013 is when Oscar’s life completely flipped after he shot and killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in his own home in Pretoria, South Africa. She was 29 years old. Pistorius went on to claim it was an act of self-defence as he mistook Reeva for an intruder and fired shots through a locked bathroom door.

The murder trial began in March 2014, and Oscar was found guilty of culpable homicide and reckless endangerment in September of that year. He was sentenced to five years in prison and a 3 year suspended sentence on  21 October. 

Less than a year later, Pistorius was recommended for an early release, and it all seemed as if it would go ahead until the Justice Minister of South Africa suddenly blocked the request. 

However, he ended up getting released in December and placed on house arrest for six months. Once the six months were up, he ended up getting re-sentenced for murder and was to serve six years in prison. 

In March of last year, Pistorius was under consideration again for an early release, which was eventually denied, but in November, it was announced he would be released on parole. As of January 5, Oscar Pistorius has been released but is to remain on parole until the end of 2029. 

Throughout the Pistorius/Steenkamp case, Reeva’s family have fought hard and long to restore justice to their deceased daughter, even starting the Reeva Rebecca Steenkamp Foundation in 2015 to help raise awareness of gender-based violence, especially in South Africa where there are extremely high rates of violence against women. 

In a statement Reeva’s mother, June, upon the news of Pistorius’ release stated, “there can never be justice if your loved one is never coming back, and no amount of time served will bring Reeva back. We, who remain behind, are the ones serving a life sentence.” She also stated she will be mostly focusing on the Foundation “to continue Reeva’s legacy.”

Public Reaction

Since what is now known as the Valentine’s Day Killing, this case has gripped the globe, with people both protesting and attesting to Oscar Pistorius’ innocence. Throughout his trial in 2014, Oscar persisted he was attempting to protect Reeva from an intruder and didn’t realise it was in fact, Reeva who he ended up killing. 

A few witnesses claimed to hear screams coming from Pistorius’ home. Text messages between the two were read out in court, they included a text from Reeva saying, “I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me and of how you will react to me.” 

Oscar was cross-examined by Gerrie Nel, a state prosecutor, who accused him of intentionally killing Reeva. Pistorius still insisted it was an honest mistake. His ex-girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, testified against him in court for controlling behaviour throughout their relationship - which began when she was 17 and he was 24.

Twitter users have expressed their feelings about Oscar’s release since the news broke, with one user tweeting, “Once again, the justice system proves to violent men that a woman's life simply doesn't matter enough. Not even when it has been stolen from her.” 

There was an outcry towards BBC News Africa in reaction to their article titled ‘Oscar Pistorius - the fallen hero and his future’, another user wrote, "Dear BBC. Please stop framing Oscar Pistorius as this fascinating man with this Shakespearian tragic arc we must all ponder in awe. He murdered Reeva Steenkamp, law graduate, campaigner, successful model, a woman with a future which he stole when he shot her 13 times.”

Sadly, this is not the first time a man has gotten off lightly for the murder of a woman, and it’s not the first time it’s been a man with a celebrity status either. This criminal case seems to be similar to OJ Simpson’s. 

Moreover, there is a common denominator that if a famous person is convicted of a crime, their privilege and celebrity status are what will ultimately be their saving grace. Due to their wealth, celebrities can acquire better defence teams, and can use the media due to their experience of being in the public eye to their advantage. This unfortunately won’t be the last time a male celebrity is painted out to be a victim when he very clearly isn’t. 

Edited by Chloe Mansola

Oscar Pistorius in Warsaw 2011 by Wikimedia Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0


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