Pistorius sentencing represents a lost opportunity for women emancipation
By Khaya Xaba
‘We need love, and to ensure love, we need to have full employment and we need social justice. We need gender equity. We need freedom from hunger. These are our most fundamental needs as social creatures’ David Suzuki
When one closely scrutinizes both judgements made by North Gauteng High Court Judge Masipa on the much publicized case of Oscar Pistorius one cannot ignore the glaring leniency shown by the judge on the defendant.
The obvious reason for the lenience in my opinion can and must be attributed to the waning progress that must made in addressing the issue of gender based violence. It was very alarming that on both sentencings by Judge Masipa first on October 21, 2014 and again on July 6, 2016 the judge completely ignored the issue of violence directed at women.
This is a huge mistake considering that our country has the highest rate of gender based violence. According to a study conducted by the World Health Organization around 60, 000 women and children abused yearly in the country. This number could be less considering that many gender based violence cases are rarely reported.
This is a grave abortion of justice considering that one cannot ignore the bare fact that Reeva Steenkamp was a victim of domestic abuse. To brush aside the issue gender based violence has resulted in the defendant receive a very light sentence. This is a not a new tendency, it is however, one that seeks to grow into a serious crisis. In a country with deep issues of violence directed both women and children the judiciary has an obligation to protect women from their violent male counterparts.
One cannot help but draw similarities between the case of Oscar Pistorius and that of Shrien Dewani. Dewani who was alleged to have hired hitmen to kill his wife Anni was acquitted by judge Jeanette Traverso in December 2014 at the Western Cape High Court. Again when delivering the judgement judge Traverso ignored the issue of gender based violence.
Again one again cannot ignore the glaring fact that in both cases women judges were lenient on male offenders. If one was to juxtapose these cases with that of Sindisiwe Manqele who was convicted for killing his rapper boyfriend Nkululeko ‘Flabba’ Habedi one cannot ignore the fact that Manqele received a very harsh sentence for killing Habedi. Logic would dictate that women judges would be very stern when sentencing male offender who are implicated in the deaths of women.
The fact that Manqele received a harsh sentence for killing a male is very disturbing to say the least. This further necessitates a probe of the role that women must play in the emancipation of women and the end of patriarchy. Furthermore, also inculcate a notion into women folks that they do not have to see each other as competition and that their unity is paramount.
Both the Pistorius and Dewani case represent a missed opportunity in the sense that it would have given and restored faith in women in the justice system considering that they don’t have that much faith in getting justice when they report cases. It is for these reasons that society at large must continue to advocate for the transformation of our judicial system to serve the people equally. Again both cases represent a missed opportunity to highlight the scourge of gender based violence and a platform to further send a message to abusers that violence directed at women will never be tolerated.
Another similarity in both these cases is that both offenders are wealthy males who have vast resources and has many connections. This paints a pictures that says justice is only for those with deep pockets. If left unchallenged this emerging trend has the potential to set a bad precedence; a precedence that says the South African judicial system favours the rich as opposed to the working class and the poor. It is therefore the duty of society at large to nip this trend in the butt.
The publicity and media attention dedicated to both cases further proves that the social status of either the offender and the victim plays a big role in determining if the case hog headlines or not. During the trial Pistorius case in 2013 whilst we were caught in the frenzy of the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing, South African women continued to be at the receiving end of abuse and violence. By focusing the media glare on individuals and celebrities, the stories of the masses of our people go untold.
During the same period, a man in Daveyton, a Gauteng township, allegedly beheaded his wife in front of the children. Needless to say, this incident received little attention. Whilst it is not the intention to compare tragedies, it is clear that women with a higher social standing receive more attention and assistance for the gender based violence they experience. We cannot allow the majority of working class women to remain voiceless and helpless as determined by their circumstances.
The conclusion to be made after a deep analysis of both these cases is that we are far from winning the fight against patriarchy and gender based violence. As society we are on a daily losing the battle of overcoming patriarchy and achieving women emancipation. The struggle for women emancipation cannot fizzle out, genuine gender activists are needed to come to the front to revitalize the struggle and ensure victory for women against economic exploitation, gender based violence and uneven opportunity for growth.
Khaya Xaba is YCLSA National Spokesperson and a gender activist