Deconstructing gender and racial implications of Oscar Pistorius murder conviction on appeal

The Supreme court of appeal in South Africa found world famous paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius guilty of murdering his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. Oscar shot through a locked bathroom door of his house four times on valentine’s day in 2013.

The conviction, however, is an overturning of the earlier ruling by High court Judge Thokozile Masipa who had convicted Oscar on a lesser charge of culpable homicide.

In simple terms, Judge Masipa had ruled that Oscar had not intended to kill Reeva. She felt the evidence which had been presented was not enough to convict Oscar dolus eventualis  intent which is present when the perpetrator objectively foresees the possibility of his act causing death and persists regardless of the consequences.

Judge Masipa said,” This court… found that the accused cannot be guilty of murder dolus eventualis…, on the basis that from his belief and his conduct, it could not be said that he foresaw that either the deceased or anyone else, for that matter, might be killed when he fired the shots at the toilet door. It also cannot be said that he accepted that possibility into the bargain.”

But the Supreme court said it could not support her”finding.”

Supreme court Justice Eric Leach said,”in the light of the nature of the firearm and the ammunition used and the extremely limited space into which the shots were fired… I have no doubt that in firing the fatal shots the accused must have foreseen, and therefore did foresee, that whoever was behind the toilet door might die, but reconciled himself to that event occurring and gambled with that person’s life. This constituted dolus eventualis on his part, and the identity of his victim is irrelevant to his guilt”

It is both interesting and important to note that Justice Leach made referrence  to common sense in one part of his ruling. Something (the common sense) which all of us commoners used to see that Oscar must have known who was behind the door and as a person with sufficient knowledge on guns he also knew that four shots from a high calibre firearm would kill the person behind that door. 

Now, most people who applauded the Supreme court ruling said it was an indictment on Judge Masipa’s trial ruling. 

But for me, the overturning of Judge Masipa’s ruling was an indictment on women and black people. There are serious gender and racial implications from the fact that a black woman judge made such a glaring error in such a high profile case. 

Judge Masipa’s ‘error’ has definitely brought into question the ability of women to perform ‘adequately’ at the same level as men and of course those who have always believed women are not as capable as men will definitely make gendered inferences as a result. In other words, the outcome of the supreme court ruling is a blow for women in general.

The racial implications are that the overturning of Judge Masipa’s ruling has also dealt a blow on the ability of black people to perform high level jobs such as, in this case, being a judge. This would not be a problem if we were talking about any other country and not South Africa where white supremacy is still an issue of contention. 

As already mentioned, there is rampant perception of black people’s intellectual (in)capabilities as informed by apartheid in South Africa.

Furthermore, some people could say that white supremacy won the day over a black judge who was raised in an impoverished black town during apartheid and was too sub-consciously aware of the position of black people in South Africa – and was afraid to convict a rich white man of murder and therefore chose to take a much safer route in the middle.

One could easily assume that in convicting Oscar of a lesser charge, Judge Masipa wanted to appease at least two groups of people- the group that wanted Oscar to go to jail- which is the majority in my opinion – and the group which did not want Oscar to go to jail. 

Or, did this black judge who grew up in an impoverished black township where gun violence is rampant fail to interpret the law because of her own numbness because she is used to seeing (black) women die everyday at the hands of gunmen?  

From this viewpoint, we can try to explore the fact that Judge Masipa did not feel the ‘wrath’ which was needed to hand down the appropriate conviction. Many people feel she could have examined more, Oscar Pistorius’s inconsistent and unreliable version of why he fired four shots into a locked bathroom door without even ascertaining if the person behind the door was capable of bringing harm to him.

What exactly made Thokozile Masipa, an inspirational woman who rose from being a maid, to make such an ‘error?’

It is also not possible to try and deconstruct Masipa’s finding without examining gender implications thereof. 

As a woman, she is expected by society to be compassionate and therefore she chose to show compassion- which women are obliged to give. As a result she gave Oscar a lesser conviction and therefore in doing so also gave him a second chance – something any mother would do. Or could it be that Thokozile Masipa was easily emotionally trapped (because she is a woman) into feeling sorry for a scared, double amputee who shot through a door without ‘thinking’ because he does ”not have legs?”

Women, in all societies, are labelled weak emotionally and physically and thus are socialised to think more of being mothers and carers. The result is why we have more women in compassion related jobs such as nursing. Therefore one can argue that these gender related qualities which are inculcated into women from a tender age could have played a role in Judge Masipa ruling that Oscar had not intended to murder Reeva Steenkamp.

There are so many questions to be asked and many classes of oppression to be examined using the Oscar Pistorius case. 

This case will definitely go down in history as one of the most prominent cases which could even shape the South African judiciary going forward.

However, despite questioning Masipa’s application of dolus eventualis, Justice Leach offered an olive branch in closing his ruling by saying the overturning of Masipa’s ruling should not be seen as an ”adverse comment upon her competence and ability.” 

He emphasized that Masipa ‘conducted the hearing with a degree of dignity and patience that is a credit to the judiciary.’

Even though Justice Leach vindicated Masipa in words only, the Supreme court of appeal’s ruling that Oscar Pistorius murdered Reeva Steenkamp is a serious indictment on women and above all black people.

But on the other hand, 
I think the appeal offered a reasonable explanation that Masipa did not need to base her judgement on the fact that Oscar did not know that it was Reeva specifically who was behind the door because the fact of the matter is that the identity of the person behind the door was irrelevant. I think it’s a win for us black people if you ask me because it’s the impoverished black people who end up as burglars in South Africa (the imaginary burglar that Oscar Pistorius wanted to bring to his demise so vehemently he fired four shots at his own bathroom door- if we are to believe him).





2 thoughts on “Deconstructing gender and racial implications of Oscar Pistorius murder conviction on appeal”

  1. Without knowing Judge Masipa's trial record, or indeed a study of the trial records of Black female judges in South Africa, you may be reading a bit too much in to this. But then again, the example of Zimbabwe's magistrate Pratt, whose systematic lynchings of men accused of rape had to be overturned by……a White male judge comes to mind.

    There is another perception that your blog ignored, one that has been trending all over social media, and this one relates to Black women specifically, especially those of the educated, weave-wearing variety: that this lot will protect White males, being in a constant state of seeking their approval, and would have gotten Oscar executed had he been a Black man as this lot is also particularly hostile to the Black man.

    There are so many ways you could go if you wanted to read anything in to this.


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