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South Africa, Gender-Based Violence and Oscar Pistorius

By Ellie Pagano

Following the release of former Paralympian, Oscar Pistorius, from prison on 5 January 2024,  an international debate has been sparked on the topic of gender-based violence in South Africa.

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Oscar Pistorius, who was convicted of murder after shooting and killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in their home in Pretoria on 14 February 2013, was released on parole around one month ago after serving only half of his 13-year sentence.

The scale of international attention given to the Pistorius case has highlighted the disturbingly high rates of gender-based violence (GBV) in South Africa, with surveys conducted by Women for Change confirming that 12 women are murdered every day in South Africa in cases relating to abuse and violence against women. 

Bulelwa Adonis, an activist for Women for Change, stated in an interview that the early release of Pistorius sent “a very concerning message to the greater society” and that the organisation was very “disheartened and discouraged” by the decision to release the former Paralympian. Whilst there are conditions for Pistorius’ release, Adonis argued that the potential of parole for perpetrators undermines the movement challenging GBV in South Africa. 

The grievances voiced by Adonis following the early release of Pistorius are certainly not without warrant. South Africa holds a femicide rate five-times higher than the global average, suggesting a pattern of leniency towards perpetrators of GBV in South Africa. Adonis went further, to suggest that South Africa had become a nation which has “normalised rape culture and victim blaming”, a statement which suggests that misogynistic and violent attitudes towards women have not only become tolerated, but are accepted as the norm. As a result, the early release of Pistorius, a convicted perpetrator of GBV, seems to symbolise a larger problem of indifference towards perpetrators in South Africa.

Whilst South Africa has become subject to heightened scrutiny, studies have suggested that the problem of GBV is persisting across the globe. UN Women confirm that globally nearly 1 in 3 women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence at the hands of both partners and non-partners at least once in their life. Perhaps as a result, we can begin to understand that by allowing perpetrators go insufficiently punished, it leads to incidents of femicide and rape becoming normalised and thus left unchallenged. 

If a case such as Oscar Pistorious – which was subject to widespread international scrutiny – can produce a verdict which excuses violence against women, it is difficult to imagine how the millions of cases of GBV which take place behind closed doors will be served with justice. For most people subjected to GBV, their stories will not attract the same level of attention, and it seems that the release of Pistorius sends a clear message, that without thorough systematic change, our society will continue to excuse violence against women.


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