Oscar Pistorius stands in the dock during a break in court proceedings over the murder of girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. (Reuters/Siphiwe Sibeko)
A professional athlete; a home with an arsenal of firearms; a dead young woman involved in a long-term relationship with her killer. In November, her name was Kasanda Perkins and the man who shot her was Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. Now her name is Reeva Steenkamp, killed by Olympic sprinter and double amputee Oscar “the Blade Runner” Pistorius. We don’t know whether Pistorius is guilty of murdering a woman he claims to have deeply loved or is guilty merely of being an unbelievably irresponsible gun owner, firing four bullets into the door of his bathroom in an effort to hit an imagined burglar. We do know that this is either an all-too-familiar story of a man and the woman he dated and then killed, or it’s the story of a man who thought a burglar had penetrated the electrified fence that surrounded his gated community to break into his house and use his toilet.
Just as with Belcher and Perkins, we will learn more than we ever wanted or needed to know in the weeks to come about the nature of Pistorius and Steenkamp’s relationship. We will learn about the “allegations of a domestic nature” that had brought police to his home in the past. We will learn about Pistorius’s previous allegedly violent relationships with women. We will learn about the variety of guns he kept at close hand. We will surely discuss male athletes and violence against women: the sort of all-too-common story that can create commonality between a football player from Long Island and a sprinter from Johannesburg. We might even ponder the way these gated communities, one of which was also the site of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin’s murder a year ago, become throbbing pods of paranoia and parabellums. We will learn about everything except what actually matters: there is a global epidemic of violence against women, and South Africa is at its epicenter.
Two days before Steenkamp’s death, there were protests outside of the South African parliament about the failures of the state to adjudicate the unsolved rapes and murders of women across the country. As the executive director of the Rape Crisis Centre Kathleen Dey said on February 12, “There are no overnight cures to the scourge of rape that is affecting South Africa. We have the highest instance of rape in the world and we cannot continue in this way.” The official statistics are shocking. Every seventeen seconds a woman is raped in South Africa yet just one out of nine women report it and only 14 percent of perpetrators are convicted. The Rape Crisis Centre and other organizations are starved for funds, with the demand for social services, counseling and even HIV tests far outstripping their capacity.