ARTICLE BY MARK SEAL via Vanity Fair Magazine.
When Oscar Pistorius—the South African “Blade Runner,” who overcame a double amputation to compete in the Olympics last year—shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day, the millions he’d inspired were faced with a shocking possibility: that their hero was also a killer. With Pistorius claiming that Steenkamp’s death was an accident, Mark Seal delves into the murder case that has rocked the country, and the paths the couple took to that fatal night.
At four A.M. on February 14, Detective Hilton Botha, a 24-year veteran of the South African Police Service, was awakened by a phone call from his colonel. “Oscar’s shot his girlfriend,” Botha told his wife, Audrey, after hanging up. She didn’t have to ask who that was. “We all know Oscar,” she told me a month later in a Johannesburg café, where we sat with her husband.
The whole world knows Oscar Pistorius, who overcame amputation of both legs when he was an infant to become the Blade Runner, competing at the age of 25 against able-bodied runners at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. But Audrey Botha also knew him as the hotheaded youth her husband had arrested for assault in 2009, after he had been accused of slamming a door so hard on a female guest at one of his parties that it caused severe injuries. (Pistorius denied the allegation, and the charge was dropped.)
Fifteen minutes after the call, Hilton Botha was at Pistorius’s home in the gated, high-security community of Silver Woods Country Estate, in Pretoria, one of the country’s three capitals, 30 miles north of Johannesburg. One of the first things he saw when he walked in the door was the body of Reeva Steenkamp, a beautiful, blonde 29-year-old model and reality-TV star, who had been shot three times by Pistorius, her boyfriend of four months. “There was a lot of blood, and I saw the body at the bottom of the staircase covered in towels,” said Botha. Minutes after the shooting, Pistorius had phoned the manager of the gated community, asking him to call an ambulance. Then he carried Steenkamp down the staircase from the bathroom, “her head and arms dangling,” according to a later newspaper report, and laid her on the floor. He reportedly gave her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and someone attempted to tie a tourniquet around her arm to stop the bleeding from one of the gunshot wounds. “She was still breathing, making a gurgling sound,” Botha recalled a witness saying. But a doctor who had rushed over from his nearby house said, “There’s head wounds—it’s not going to help,” added the detective. “And then she stopped breathing.
“It was a big house and very neat and tidy,” said Botha, “and you could see the money talking, with all the ornaments and portraits and paintings. There were shelves stacked with trophies. There was also one of those big box frames, with a picture of Mike Tyson, along with a signed boxing glove.”
The detective stepped around the corpse and went up the marble staircase to the master bedroom, where the shooting had occurred an hour earlier. The crime scene was actually the bathroom. “It was a large en suite bathroom,” he said, with a shower, two washbasins, and a toilet cubicle, the door of which was riddled with bullet holes. It had been bashed open with a cricket bat by Pistorius, who claimed he had broken it down after realizing that Reeva was locked inside. The bloodied cricket bat was on the bathroom floor, along with two cell phones and a 9-mm. Parabellum pistol.
In the café, Botha crouched down to show me his theory of how Steenkamp may have been cowering in the toilet (a cubicle that measured 4 1/2 by 3 1/2 feet), with her arms crossed, which would account for why one bullet had gone through her fingers before entering her arm. Another bullet struck her above the right ear, and another hit her in the hip. “It does not matter where she was in that toilet, she wouldn’t have had a chance,” said Botha.
Detective Hilton Botha.
In a country plagued by police corruption, where eight officers were recently charged with murder for allegedly tying a man’s hands to the back of a police van and dragging him down the street (he was later found dead in his cell), Botha is proud of his record. “I try to investigate every case as if it were one of my own who was murdered,” he told me. A veteran of countless homicide investigations, he said he had immediately seen the Pistorius case as a simple one. A woman is killed by her husband, her boyfriend, or her same-sex partner. It happens every eight hours in South Africa, where “intimate femicide” is the country’s leading cause of violent deaths of women.
“There is no way anything else could have happened,” said Botha. “It was just them in the house, and according to the security registers she had been staying there for two to three days, so he had to be used to her by that time…. There was no forced entry. The only place there could have been entrance was the open bathroom window, and we did everything we could to see if anyone went through it, and it was impossible. So I thought it was an open-and-closed case. He shot her—that’s it. I was convinced that it was murder, and I told my colonel, ‘You already read him his rights, so you have to arrest him.’ ”
Botha went into the garage, where Pistorius, in a bloody shirt and shorts, wearing his prosthetic legs, was sitting on a gym bench, surrounded by training equipment. “His head was in his hands, and he was crying. There was blood on him, but his hands were clean. We said, ‘Did you wash your hands?’ And he said, ‘Yes, because they were full of blood.’ ”
“Do you remember me?,” Botha asked him, referring to the time four years earlier when he had arrested Pistorius on the assault charge. “Yes,” replied Pistorius.
“I thought it was a burglar,” said Pistorius.
But the evidence indicated intentional murder, Botha told me. Why would a burglar lock himself in a bathroom cubicle? Why would the victim be shot through her shorts if she was using the toilet in the middle of the night? And why would she have taken her cell phone into the bathroom at three A.M.? (Unsupported media speculation would swirl that Reeva had received a tweet or a text from the South African Rugby star Francois Hougaard, a previous boyfriend, and that that may have ignited Pistorius’s rage.) According to Botha, the bullets had struck her on the right side, which meant that she was not sitting on the toilet but probably crouching behind the locked door. From the location of the bullet casings in the bathroom, the detective believed that Pistorius had fired at the door from less than five feet away. By standing straight and imagining himself pointing a gun at the door, Botha believed that the bullet holes were slanted down, which would indicate that Pistorius had been wearing his prosthetic legs, not, as he would later claim, that he was on his stumps. But why would he enter the very area where he believed the burglar was lurking and begin firing, instead of grabbing his girlfriend and running for cover?
“It can’t be. It’s impossible,” Botha remembered thinking after hearing Oscar’s burglary story. Because of his certainty and his pursuit of evidence to prove it, the detective now feels, blame shifted from Pistorius to him. Botha was soon removed from the case, and shortly after that he resigned from the police force. His professional standing and reputation came under fire, he said, because he had not been able even to consider that Pistorius had thought Steenkamp was a burglar before shooting her down in cold blood.
Against All Odds
Oscar Pistorius overcame a severe disability—he was born without fibula bones, which necessitated the amputation of both of his legs below the knee when he was 11 months old—by ignoring it. “Your brother puts on his shoes, you put on your legs,” his mother repeatedly told him, inspiring him with her insistence that his disability didn’t define him. His parents’ divorce when he was 6, followed by his mother’s death from an adverse drug reaction when he was 15, left Pistorius shattered. Estranged from his father, he and his brother were like “rudderless boats,” he wrote in Blade Runner: My Story, his 2008 memoir. He had the dates of his mother’s birth and death tattooed on his arm, and he turned a message she once sent him into a mantra: “The real loser is never the person who crosses the finishing line last. The real loser is the person who sits on the side, the person who does not even try to compete.” No other woman seemed to measure up to Oscar’s mother; his autobiography recounts romantic disappointments and breakups. His only true love became the running track, on which he became “the fastest man on no legs” and “a symbol, a moment in history, a one-man parade of the human will,” according to published reports. “At first, Oscar Pistorius seems like someone who has stepped out of the future,” wrote NBC’s Brian Brown. “His gait has the quality of a giant cat on the prowl, if such a creature were equipped with flipper-like feet instead of paws As Oscar approaches, model handsome, outfitted in the latest Oakley shades and sleek Nike sportswear, with an admirably sculpted upper body, you can understand why anyone might wonder if this is a peek into our evolutionary future: half man, half machine.”
As his ultimate challenge—fighting a murder charge, which could lead to life in prison—loomed, his family, friends, and spin doctors went to work, blaming everyone but Oscar for Steenkamp’s death. “We have no doubt that there is no substance to the allegation and that the state’s own case, including its own forensic evidence, strongly refutes any possibility of a pre-meditated murder or indeed any murder as such,” said Oscar’s uncle Arnold, a wealthy real-estate developer and spokesman for the large, privileged Pistorius family, whose vast and diverse business interests include mining, tourism, and property development.
Some blamed Oscar’s predicament on his having grown up white in Johannesburg, the largest city in the former South African apartheid state, which nourished racism, terror, oppression, and violence from 1948 to 1991. Others, including Oscar’s father, Henke, pointed to the high crime rate in South Africa, where more than half the population earns less than $65 a month. Henke, his brothers, and his father reportedly own a total of 55 guns, which, Henke told an interviewer for The Sunday Telegraph, were “for hunting” and “for protection.” And why not? “You can’t rely on the police,” he said. “When you wake up in the middle of the night—and crime is so endemic in South Africa—what do you do if somebody is in the house? Do you think it is one of your family? Of course you don’t.”
“I can never see Oscar doing what happened in that room that evening,” Mike Azzie, whom Oscar calls Uncle Mike, told me. A lifelong friend, Azzie has spoken to Pistorius almost daily since the shooting. They own a racehorse together, and Oscar is trying to sell his share to cover legal fees. “I ask him, ‘How are you feeling, Ozzy?,’ and he just says, ‘I’m a broken man, Uncle Mike,’ and every single time he mentions Reeva and her family.” He recounted an incident when his son had slept over at Oscar’s house and made a noise when he got up to get a drink of water in the middle of the night. “Oscar came running out with a gun in his hand,” said Azzie. No one is safe in South Africa, he added. “They don’t just come in and tie you up and rob you of your assets,” he said. “They denigrate you in front of your family. They rape your wife and urinate over your children and shoot the man in the back of the head and leave the kids without a father…. So here is a kid who hasn’t got legs; he hears noises in the house, has his girlfriend in his home, and straightaway goes into full combat mode and panics. He thinks, I’ve got to protect this girl. That’s the only way I think it could have happened to this poor kid.”
When I arrived in Johannesburg, I was told by a spokesman that the Pistorius family was not available for interviews, that they refused to participate in any more “media sideshows” like the one Henke had created with his comments, which many people considered racist. The family was focusing all of its energy on Oscar’s defense. As for Oscar himself, who communicated with me through the spokesman, he was “still deep in grief” over Reeva’s death; “the last thing on my mind,” he said, was speaking to a reporter or agreeing to a photo session.
Reeva’s friends and family, however, were eager to talk. One evening, a large group gathered at the home of the Cecil Myers family, where Reeva had lived during the last six months of her life. Cecil and Desi, their two daughters, and several of Reeva’s friends related endless stories about the dead woman’s love of life. Soon Cecil, whom Reeva called her Jo’burg dad, became very emotional. “I said he can rot in hell, and I meant it,” he said of Pistorius. “It’s all Oscar, Oscar, Oscar. What about Reeva?”
A Driven Beauty
It was Reeva’s “dream” to be in Vanity Fair, her petite, blonde mother, June Steenkamp, told me, adding sadly “that she had to lose her life to get it.” We were in June’s home in the southern seaside city of Port Elizabeth, a modest house filled with pictures of Reeva. June was still outraged over the fact that she had received flowers with a note reading something like From the Office of Oscar Pistorius, and that Oscar had had the gall to hold his own private memorial service for Reeva. Soon after the killing, she said, she had received a call from Arnold Pistorius. “I said, ‘I’ve got nothing to say to you, and I don’t want to hear anything that you’ve got to say,’ ” she told me. “And he said, ‘I’m very sorry that I’ve troubled you then.’ And I just put the phone down…. Maybe he wanted to invite me to their memorial, which I think was really out of line.” Reeva’s father, Barry, 69, a burly, bearded former racehorse trainer, remained outside, unable to speak without crying. “He’s actually much more emotional than me,” said June.
“We had her body brought here for the viewing at Doves funeral home,” June continued. “It was freezing cold. She looked like wax. But beautiful still. I collapsed. They carried me out. I insisted on going back. I told her how much I loved her, and that I hope she is finally safe. Because of the way she died.”
It’s ironic that Reeva Steenkamp lost her life at the hands of a man with a gun. She and her mother were passionate, longtime advocates for women suffering from violence and abuse. In South Africa in the two-year period of 2011–12, there were 64,500 reported rapes, one every four minutes—the highest occurrence in the world, according to the U.S. State Department. Even the current president, Jacob Zuma, stood trial in 2006, charged with raping a 31-year-old AIDS activist. (He was acquitted.) As a child, Reeva wanted to be a lawyer, but when she was in law school fate intervened. “She was riding one of the racehorses, and she fell on her back,” said June. “She had two crushed vertebrae. She was in traction, and the doctors said they can’t be sure whether she is ever going to walk again. She lay there for six weeks, not knowing.” In the end, Reeva made a full recovery, with what she would later call a massive new mind-set. “She decided she was not up to riding anymore,” said June. She also decided not to practice law, though she earned a law degree and graduated at the top of her class.
She dyed her hair blond and became the face of Avon South Africa, cut her ties with an emotionally abusive boyfriend, and left Port Elizabeth for the bright lights of Johannesburg, where, she declared, she was going to become a model. “Her father was so against it because of something like this happening,” said June. “It’s a jungle, Johannesburg, one of the toughest places in South Africa to live.”
“She phoned me and said she had just come out from Port Elizabeth and wanted to be a model,” Jane Celliers, of Ice Model Management, told me. Celliers asked the girl about her dimensions. “I said, ‘You are too short for Ice,’ ” she recalled. But Reeva pleaded with her just to see her. “And she walked in the door, and it was love at first sight.”
Magazines, print advertising, and TV commercials followed. Reeva was the gorgeous blonde on television promoting Pin Pop lollipops, Toyota cars, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Cardinal Beer, and Hollywood Chewing Gum. But she needed a mainstream-magazine cover, and FHM was a hot monthly. “Girls in bikinis,” Hagen Engler, the former editor of the South African edition, said, summing up the magazine for males. He remembered Reeva’s dogged drive to be not only seen but also quoted. She was a bit heavy for bikini work when she arrived at Engler’s door, but, thanks to yoga and determined dieting and exercise, she soon came back fit, firm, and still curvaceous. “Reeva was always sexy,” said Engler. “In a bikini she could rock it.” In addition, she was savvy to what she called “the game”: building relationships. She began tantalizing FHM’s 70,000 readers, first with “a tiny little postage-stamp picture in a bikini,” said Engler, “then a little bigger picture.” Three years later she landed the December 2011 cover. Engler remembered the cover picture of her in a hot-pink bikini, and said of one inside photograph, “She’s eating an iced lolly.” Reeva said in her interview, “I’m passionate about standing up in defence of those who do not realise their own rights.”
She was 27, mature for a model, said Engler. “She needed to make things happen fast.” During most of her first four years in Johannesburg, she lived with Warren Lahoud, a young exporter of South African vegetables with an easy smile and a pleasant air. “Reeva was driven, passionate, and when she set her mind on something, she would do it,” Lahoud told me. “She always told me how much she loved me.” And everybody apparently loved Warren, especially Reeva’s mother. “A real gentleman,” said June Steenkamp. “I don’t know what went wrong, but she was moving in different circles. There was her modeling, and he is a home guy, you know? She told me she was putting everything into her modeling now, and she had a few interviews for movies.”
Reeva got a spot on Tropika Island of Treasure, a reality show, described to me as “Survivor with food and shelter.” According to Jane Celliers, “At the time, Reeva wasn’t a celebrity. She was a well-known model. Tropika built her status for the next four months—getting her on talk shows and in celebrity cook-offs.” As Steenkamp’s publicist Sarit Tomlinson, the managing director of Capacity Relations, explained, “When you are a celebrity, you have a mouth, a platform, a voice, where you can make yourself heard. Whether on Twitter, TV, radio—any medium—Reeva was passionate about violence against women and giving women a voice to make themselves heard.”
In 2012, Reeva and Lahoud broke up. “I moved out and left her the apartment,” he said. “There were two months left on the lease. We just decided it was not working.”
After her lease expired, Reeva began looking for another apartment. In the meantime, she moved in with the family of Gina Myers, a makeup artist she had met at a red-carpet event. While she continued pursuing her career, she would briefly date Francois Hougaard, the Rugby star. But her destiny had been set years before, when she met a fellow model out on the town one night in Johannesburg. Her name was Samantha Greyvenstein, and she would introduce Reeva to her boyfriend, Justin Divaris, who runs the Daytona Group, the city’s premier distributor of luxury cars, whose showroom features Rolls-Royces, Bentleys, Aston Martins, and McLarens, and whose brand ambassador was Oscar Pistorius.
After phoning the Steenkamps to inform them of their daughter’s tragedy, Botha transported Reeva’s body for a postmortem to determine the cause of death. He instructed his colleagues to take Pistorius to a hospital for blood and urine tests. (Results have not been disclosed.) Then he returned to the crime scene to gather and bag evidence. He found unlicensed ammunition for a .38-caliber revolver and vials containing an unidentified liquid, along with syringes and needles. “We took the laptops, the iPads, the phones, the gun, the cartridges … all bagged, marked, and sent to different forensic departments,” he told me. He even took away the broken-down toilet door after someone offered a police officer $50,000 for a picture of it. “If someone steals the door and sells it, we have no case,” said Botha.
The detective’s focus then shifted to Pistorius’s recent behavior. One witness recalled him dining with friends, a few weeks before Reeva’s shooting, at Tashas, in the Melrose Arch mall. One friend had a pistol, which he passed under the table to Oscar. The gun went off, and a shot ricocheted and almost hit another of Oscar’s buddies in the foot.
There was also an incident at the Kyalami motor-sport racetrack, where Pistorius confronted Quinton van der Burgh, the Cape Town coal-mining magnate and TV producer, after hearing that he had become involved with one of Pistorius’s former girlfriends. “He started screaming, and he said he would fuck him up if he didn’t stop messing around with his girlfriend,” recalled Botha. Van der Burgh got a lawyer to obtain a restraining order, said Botha, and van der Burgh’s friend Marc Batchelor, the former soccer star, urged Pistorius to back off. “Pistorius told Marc Batchelor he would break his legs,” said Botha. Batchelor told Johannesburg’s Star newspaper, “He called me ‘boy’ and … said he wasn’t afraid of me The man I heard on the phone is a different man from the image given out there. He carries a gun everywhere, and I have seen him be controlling to women.”
The detective remembered the first time he had arrested Pistorius, in September 2009, for allegedly slamming a door on a woman named Cassidy Taylor-Memmory during a party at his home in Silver Woods Country Estate. At the police station, the superstar reportedly signed autographs and posed for photographs for “infatuated” officers. The case was quickly dropped, and Pistorius sued Taylor-Memmory for 22 million rand ($2.5 million), claiming that his arrest had caused him to lose sponsors. Taylor-Memmory countersued. Neither side budged for years until several weeks after Reeva’s killing, when Pistoruis reportedly withdrew his claim against Taylor-Memmory and entered into settlement negotiations.
I met with her lawyers, who described their version of the incident. During the party, Pistorius’s then girlfriend, the model Melissa Rom, confronted Oscar after catching him playing “kissy-face” with another woman. Incensed, he shouted abuse at Rom. Then, under the influence of alcohol, according to the attorneys, he chased Rom and her friend Taylor-Memmory from the house. Once outside, Taylor-Memmory realized that she had left her purse with her car keys in the house. When she tried to go inside to get them, Pistorius slammed the front door so hard that the top of it shattered, and flying pieces injured her leg. (Pistorius denied this account.)
After Oscar’s arrest for murder, some South African sportswriters who had promoted him and partied with him in his race to glory began to rethink their coverage. Radio host David O’Sullivan, for one, showed me a book of drawings by seven-year-olds in his son’s special-needs class. The boys were asked to draw pictures of their heroes, and most of them came up with rough figures of the Blade Runner. “I would hear the stories, that he had become quite big for his boots, but I always dismissed them,” said O’Sullivan. “Because when I would see Oscar he was just the nicest guy.
“The boat accident, where he carved his face up,” he continued, referring to a 2009 incident in which Pistorius slammed his speedboat into a pier on the Vaal River, breaking his jaw and several ribs and damaging an eye socket. When he emerged from a three-day coma, he had 180 stitches in his face. (Alcoholic beverages were later found on the boat, but police never tested Pistorius’s blood, and authorities declined to prosecute.) “I thought, The exuberance of youth. He’s a South African boy, becoming a bit of a star, a playboy, and why the hell not?”
O’Sullivan recalled Oscar phoning him from the Beijing Paralympic Games in 2008, bitching that he didn’t like the running vest and shorts supplied to him. “He wanted to go on the air and complain,” said O’Sullivan, who put him on his radio show. When Pistorius competed at the London Olympics, last summer, O’Sullivan interviewed the athlete’s roommate at the Olympic Village: “ ‘What is it like to sleep in the same room with a superstar?’ And he said, ‘I moved out. Oscar is always shouting at people on the phone.’ ”
‘No one knew the real Oscar—no one wanted to dig deeper,” said Graeme Joffe, another sportswriter. “In 2011 he stormed out of an interview with the BBC when they asked him if, in his fight to run with able-bodied athletes, he had become ‘an inconvenient embarrassment’ to the International Association of Athletics Federations. At that age, 24, to behave like that, something was bubbling underneath. I think what you will find coming out in the trial is more of the obsessive, aggressive nature of Oscar Pistorius, which the world never knew. In hindsight, I saw the warning signs. No one was mentoring this guy. There was denial that anything was wrong.”
He was earning a reported $2 million a year from his sponsors, which included Nike, Oakley, and Thierry Mugler perfumes, and no one wanted to stop the gravy train. “The last thing you want is a sponsor like Nike to think there is a problem,” said Joffe. “The incidents were turned into non-events.”
When Pistorius lost to Brazil’s Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira in the 200 meters at the 2012 Paralympic Games, he criticized the winner for having longer blades than he did. “It came across as real sour grapes,” said Joffe. “He blew up. He apologized the day after, not for what he said but for the timing of it at the track right after the race in front of hordes and hordes of media.”
Although Pistorius didn’t meet South Africa’s individual 400-meter qualifying standard to compete in the 2012 Summer Olympics, he was approved, it seems, just because he was Oscar. “It is a political decision that has been taken,” South Africa’s minister of sports and recreation reportedly told one radio station when asked about Pistorius’s selection. “He got to the semi-finals of the 400 meters,” said Joffe. “He was on the platform in front of 80,000 people with Usain Bolt. People didn’t know where South Africa was until Oscar stood on that platform. He was our brand, a world iconic figure, an inspiration to millions around the world, a disabled athlete competing with the able-bodied. There is no prize for trying to knock down a role model.”
After the Olympics, Pistorius flew to America, where he appeared on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and on Piers Morgan Tonight. By the time he returned, some say, the humble Oscar was gone, replaced by Oscar the Invincible. “He was bragging about his adventures in the good life,” a former confidant told me. “He was like, ‘I’m the man, I’m Oscar. The world owes me.’ That sense of entitlement. He wasn’t like that; he was made into that.” His friends, the confidant continued, changed from “the good old lads” to “the Southern Jo’burg tattooed skinhead-gang type. He surrounded himself with people who used violence and rage as an outlet for whatever you feel. God forbid, I didn’t see it going to this point. But I knew something was going to crack.” Even Gianni Merlo, the Italian journalist who helped Pistorius write his autobiography, wondered, “Have we unwittingly cultivated a monster?”
The stress of the Olympics took its toll. “He was in a foul mood,” said Daily Mail sportswriter Jonathan McEvoy. During workouts that May, McEvoy wrote, Pistorius’s “swearing would astonish the mothers and children also using the gym.” McEvoy told me, “He would storm out of the gym midway through a workout. He would be surly, rude. It seemed as though he survived on energy drinks and caffeine pills.” McEvoy asked Pistorius about the weapons in his bedroom—“a black pistol on the table next to the bed and a sinister-looking machine gun under the window”—and Pistorius responded, “Protection, brother.” McEvoy wrote, “He couldn’t sleep—perhaps unsurprisingly given his caffeine pills and coffee diet. Often he would rise in the middle of the night and go with his gun and a couple of boxes of ammunition to the shooting range.”
He had a pit bull and a bull terrier, as well as two white tigers (which he sold to a Canadian zoo once they grew to 400 pounds) and shares in at least one racehorse. He owned a revolving collection of fast cars and had a $300,000 McLaren Spider on order. He had one pistol licensed for self-defense, and had applied for licenses for three shotguns, a rifle, and two more pistols. “Had a 96% headshot over 300m from 50shots! Bam!” he posted on Twitter in November 2011, along with a picture of himself firing a pistol at a shooting range near Gemona, Italy, where he often trained. Six weeks before the 2012 London Olympics, he tweeted on his way to the range, “Amped to the max! Yeaaah boi!!”
According to an innkeeper friend of Pistorius’s interviewed by McEvoy, “He has a string of blondes.” On November 4, 2012, he met another one.
‘If you looked up ‘hot’ in the dictionary, it would have ‘Reeva Steenkamp’ in there,” one tweeter declared the day before Steenkamp met Pistorius. “On the 4th of November, I hosted a track day at Kyalami Race track,” Justin Divaris said in an affidavit. “I independently invited Oscar and Reeva to come and enjoy the day’s festivities.” He introduced them, he said, and “it was apparent that Oscar and Reeva were immediately attracted to one another.” Oscar invited her to accompany him to the South African Sports Awards ceremony that evening.
“I desperately need a dress for tonight!,” Reeva said when she phoned Gina Myers. “What for?,” Gina asked. “I’m going to the South African Sports Awards!” said Reeva. “With who?” asked Gina. “With Oscar,” said Reeva. “As friends,” she added.
Steenkamp, in a sexy pink tasseled dress, rocked the red carpet with Pistorius that night. Oscar told Divaris that he and Reeva had “hit it off.” Suddenly, everyone wanted to know more about Reeva Steenkamp. One of Oscar’s former girlfriends, part-time model Samantha Taylor, bared her claws, telling City Press, “Oscar has such a way with women. She’s probably not the only one he’s got…. Oscar is certainly not what people think he is.” (After Reeva’s death, Taylor’s mother posted on Facebook, “I am so glad that Sammy is safe and sound and out of the clutches of that man—there were a few occasions where things could have gone wrong with her and his gun during the time they dated.”)
Pistorius pursued Steenkamp ferociously. “It wasn’t instant for Reeva, but it was instant for Oscar,” says Steenkamp’s publicist Sarit Tomlinson. “He became overwhelming,” said Gina Myers, adding that her father, Cecil, as protective of Reeva as he was of his own two daughters, told Oscar, “If you want this girl, you need to give her some space.” But he never did. “He was here all the time,” said Cecil Myers of Oscar’s early courtship. “Then she started going to him, and we never saw him again.”
“On the 26th of January, I saw them at Tashas’s White Party, and I still have an image of them both dressed in white,” said Andre Neveling, the editor of the celebrity magazine Heat (“If it’s not in Heat, it didn’t happen!”). Pistorius, anointed by Heat readers in 2011 as the country’s hottest hunk, guest-edited a special issue and attended Heat parties, where, according to Neveling, he often accidentally danced on people’s toes in his prosthetic legs.
‘They looked so much in love, and everybody was going on and on about what a great couple they made,” Neveling continued. “Everybody thought this is ‘the real deal.’ ” It seemed so real that Neveling began angling to land the first Oscar-and-Reeva cover for Heat. “But they kept saying, ‘It’s still new. Give us some time to enjoy each other’s company before we jump into the celebrity circus.’ ” In fact, Reeva, who referred to Oscar in her tweets as “my boo,” didn’t want to be known merely as Pistorius’s girlfriend.
“They were awesome together,” said Johannesburg businessman Del Levin, who, with his wife, the TV personality Jen Su, were friendly with the couple. “We’d been out to dinner with him and Reeva two weeks before the incident. He had told us he was really unhappy and insecure in the house, and he had looked at a house in Sandton and was all excited about it. If he’s guilty, people have two sides to them. The good person now has completely disappeared. I find it interesting that in the press nobody has said one decent thing about the guy.”
There were warning signs. “I thought, What the hell is she doing with him?” said Pepi Dimevski, owner of SA Hardcore Tattoos, who tattooed the word “lioness” on Reeva’s ankle. “I told her, ‘It doesn’t matter how famous he is. His name is not good around people on the street.’ ”
“On the second of January, Oscar brought Reeva down to Cape Town, and they took my daughter and me out for breakfast,” Reeva’s cousin Kim Martin told me. “We spent about two hours together. I thought he was a nice guy, but when Oscar walked away from the table, I asked Reeva, ‘Are you happy?’ And she smiled and said in a hesitant response, ‘Yes,’ but I could see in her response something. And she said, ‘We will have a chat.’ I felt there were things that they had to deal with. They looked good together, happy together, but there was something that she could not talk to me about at the table. She said, ‘We will talk about it another time.’ But we never did.”
The week of February 14 was Reeva’s week. Thursday was Valentine’s Day, and Saturday was the premiere of her first appearance on Tropika Island of Treasure. She wrapped a valentine for Oscar, probably a picture of the two of them together. Then, to ensure that her parents could watch her Tropika debut, she deposited $100 into their bank account so that they could have the use of their cable TV, which had been shut off for nonpayment.
She spent February 13 polishing the speech she was going to give the next day to students at Sandown High School to commemorate the “Black Friday Campaign for Rape Awareness,” following the death of a 17-year-old girl named Anene Booysen, who had been gang-raped outside Cape Town. “I woke up in a happy safe home this morning,” Reeva wrote on Instagram. “Not everyone did. Speak out against the rape of individuals in SA. RIP Anene Booysen. #rape #crime #sayNO.”
“I spoke to her the day before she died,” said her publicist Simphiwe Majola. “I asked her to come to my office so I could see her present her speech.” He said she delivered it with passion. She talked about growing up poor on a farm and later losing her self-esteem in an emotionally abusive relationship, only to regain it as a model in Johannesburg. She urged the students to realize the importance of being heard and realizing your value.
“The last e-mail I received from her was at a quarter past five P.M., and she died the next morning.” He took out his computer to show me her final e-mails. She wanted to get involved with a brand like Virgin Active Health Clubs, she wrote, and to launch her own lingerie line. In response to Majola’s suggestion that she model herself after an international star, Reeva mentioned Cameron Diaz, whom she admired for her down-to-earth attitude and sense of humor.
Just before six that evening, Reeva Steenkamp was recorded driving her Mini Cooper through the massive gates of Silver Woods Country Estate. One month later, I drove through those gates and entered a vast development surrounded by high fences. Thieves had breached security there only twice, I was told. A house was burglarized four years ago, and a robbery in 2011 caused the development to increase its security procedures considerably. At present, equipped with what the Silver Woods Web site calls “a solid, electrified, security wall,” the community seemed so safe that on the evening of the shooting Pistorius was sleeping with his balcony doors open.
“What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow?,” Reeva tweeted the day before she died. However, during what sounded like an argument in Pistorius’s house between two and three A.M., according to Hilton Botha, “witnesses said they heard a lady scream, and they heard bullet shots fired, and then they heard a scream again and then another few shots fired.”
“She wanted to make herself heard,” said Sarit Tomlinson. “And she did.” Gina Myers added, “I can’t imagine living my life without her, but I know that something good will come out of it. People have heard her and will continue to hear her. She has become an icon.”
BY ANTOINE DE RAS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES.
Pistorius in the courtroom at the Magistrate’s Court in Pretoria.
No to killing of women and children … no violence against women … pistorius must rot in jail!
Those were among the messages on placards carried by members of the African National Congress Women’s League as they picketed outside the Pretoria courthouse during the hearing to determine if Pistorius would be granted bail. I met with the league’s fiery spokesperson, Jackie Mofokeng, and she made it clear that for the women’s league, 500,000 members strong, Pistorius represents the ugly face of femicide: a man who killed his woman and expects to get away with it. Mofokeng seethed that Pistorius had been transported from the jail in the precinct where he was arrested to the Brooklyn police station across town. She explained that Oscar’s confinement space in Brooklyn was “like a hotel”—a large cell with a television, a microwave, and 24-hour visitor privileges. “We want to know more about this!” she snapped. “We want to open the can of worms!”
The day before Pistorius’s bail hearing, his brother, Carl, had appeared in court on a culpable-homicide charge, stemming from a 2008 auto accident, in which he collided with a female motorcyclist, who was killed. “Accidentally killing women would appear to be a family pastime,” wrote Richard Poplak on the Daily Maverick, a Johannesburg news Web site. (In March, Carl pleaded not guilty to the charge.)
Oscar’s case began with a major victory for the prosecution when the crime was classified as Schedule 6, or pre-meditated murder, which meant that Pistorius would have to prove to the court “exceptional circumstances” in order to be released on bail. “The minute that the state said Schedule 6, he’s in a whole world of trouble, and he has to show his hand,” said a Johannesburg attorney with knowledge of the case. To escape the nightmare of probably having to spend up to two years awaiting trial in a hellish South African prison, Pistorius presented an affidavit of his version of events.
As Oscar sobbed uncontrollably in court, his attorney read the affidavit:
By about [10 P.M.] on 13 February 2013 we were in our bedroom. She was doing her yoga exercises and I was in bed watching television. My prosthetic legs were off. We were deeply in love and I could not be happier After Reeva finished her yoga exercises she got into bed and we both fell asleep. I am acutely aware of violent crime being committed by intruders entering the home with a view to commit crime, including violent crime. I have received death threats before. I have also been a victim of violence and of burglaries before. For that reason I kept my firearm, a 9 mm Parabellum, underneath my bed.
Early that morning, Oscar said, he had gotten up to close his sliding glass doors and heard a noise in the bathroom.
I felt a sense of terror rushing over me. There are no burglar bars across the bathroom window and I knew that contractors who worked at my house had left ladders outside. Although I did not have my prosthetic legs on I have mobility on my stumps. I believed that someone had entered my house. I was too scared to switch a light on. I grabbed my 9mm pistol from underneath my bed. On my way to the bathroom I screamed … for him/them to get out of my house and for Reeva to phone the police. It was pitch dark in the bedroom and I thought Reeva was in bed.
He heard “movement” inside the toilet, he said, and here he refuted his lifetime insistence that his disability did not make him different from anyone else. Now he was using his handicap as an excuse.
It filled me with horror and fear of an intruder or intruders being inside the toilet. I thought he or they must have entered through the unprotected window. As I did not have my prosthetic legs on and felt extremely vulnerable, I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself I felt trapped as my bedroom door was locked and I have limited mobility on my stumps. I fired shots at the toilet door and shouted to Reeva to phone the police. She did not respond.
When he finally realized that Reeva was not in the bed, he said, he tried the toilet door. It was locked. He grabbed his cricket bat “to bash open the toilet door” and found her.
The day after Pistorius’s statement was read, Hilton Botha gave his testimony. He told the court there was “no way” that the killing of Reeva Steenkamp was self-defense. “A defenseless woman, unarmed, was gunned down,” he said, adding that he had never believed Pistorius’s story that he was trying to protect Reeva and himself from a burglar. “The accused could be a flight risk,” he said, opposing the granting of bail. “He’s definitely looking at 15 to life, and that’s a serious case that anyone would run away from.”
During Botha’s testimony, as he laid out his version of the evidence and statements by witnesses who said they had heard Pistorius and Steenkamp arguing, Pistorius held his head in his hands, sobbing uncontrollably. Then his defense attorneys began a blistering cross-examination: How did the witnesses the detective interviewed know it was Reeva and Oscar, and not other neighbors, who were arguing? Since Reeva’s bladder was empty, wasn’t that consistent with Oscar’s statement that she had used the toilet in the middle of the night? And wouldn’t she have locked herself in the toilet after Pistorius yelled that there was a burglar in the house? “Botha on ropes, floundering,” tweeted the BBC’s Andrew Harding. Another reporter tweeted, “Hangdog detective conceding case point by point to a better-prepared defence.”
What came next was even worse. “The bomb blew,” Botha told me. At nine P.M. on his first day of testimony, he received a call from a fellow officer, saying that a two-year-old case, since withdrawn, was being reopened. In 2011, when Botha and other officers were investigating the grisly murder of a woman, a mini-bus taxi drove straight at them at 100 miles per hour, forcing them off the road. When the driver attempted to flee, Botha shot out the taxi’s tires. Now the resultant charges—seven counts of attempted murder, one for each unharmed person in the taxi—were being reinstated. “I knew they had it in for me,” Botha told me. “I think that they thought if I’m not on the case they have no one to testify from the scene.”
The next day Botha was removed from the Pistorius case.
‘They thought I’m not going to testify, and if I don’t testify, then everything that happened on the scene would be hearsay,” Botha continued, adding that he had been replaced by a more senior detective. “They are going to subpoena me, and I’m going to testify.”
“I come to the conclusion that the accused has made a case to be released on bail,” Chief Magistrate Desmond Nair ruled on February 22, at which point a loud cheer erupted in the courtroom. Jackie Mofokeng saw that the person cheering was Kenny Kunene, a flamboyant ex-con famous for having served sushi on the bodies of near naked women in his nightclub ZAR (named for the currency code for South African cash).
“Kenny Kunene has already disrespected women by having served sushi from a woman’s body, and now he’s back, doing a sushi dance over Pistorius’s bail while Reeva’s family is still in mourning!,” Mofokeng stormed. Kunene, who was chauffeured to court to support his friend, told me, “Oscar’s no fucking gangster. I was a gangster, and once you’ve been one, you recognize one. I believe in Oscar’s innocence.”
After Pistorius was granted bail, his attorneys successfully appealed the bail restrictions—which included abstinence from alcohol and not returning to his house—so that he could resume traveling and racing. (Cleared to leave South Africa, Pistorius must submit any travel plans to the court.) “It’s like he’s dancing on Reeva’s grave,” declared Mofokeng. The women’s league, she assured me, will picket the court every day of Pistorius’s upcoming trial. And if the magistrate, who alone will determine the verdict, sets Pistorius free, the league will protest until the end of Oscar’s days. “This case is the worst, an embarrassment against women,” she said. “We want him in the cells.”
Pistorius’s statement, which he disclosed to obtain bail, will be key in his upcoming trial, for which a date has not been set. “This whole case is going to turn on ballistics and cell-phone evidence,” the Johannesburg attorney told me. “Oscar says, ‘I was walking around on my stumps in a dark house, and I pumped a few rounds through the bathroom door.’ So now they’re going to start looking ballistically. At what angle was Oscar standing? Was he upright on prosthetic legs or down on stumps? The bullets’ point of entry and exit in the door is going to show the truth. He’s opened the door on conviction: did he lie about being on his stumps?
“Also, Reeva’s cell phone was found in the bathroom. She may have been texting someone just before she died,” the attorney continued. “Cell-phone records can remain on the network for 30 days. Oscar’s version of events could also be contradicted by what went out on text messages or on telephone conversations.
“The general view is that Oscar’s in trouble. I think they’re going to run a trial and try to show that Oscar wanted to kill Reeva. Oscar’s affidavit is going to be crucial to destroy his credibility. Is Oscar going to try to make a plea agreement? Everybody expects that. Is he going to be successful? We doubt it.”
Hilton Botha feels confident that justice will be done. “They sacrificed me like a pawn on the chessboard, but now the king is in check,” he said.
Pistorius and his team are not conceding anything. “I’ll survive,” Oscar was reported by the BBC as saying upon his arrest, though his family categorically denied it. “I always win.”
(story by Vanity Fair)
Oscar’s appeal hearing took place in Pretoria today and he will appear back in court on August 19th for his case to be heard.
within months of blowing up around the globe, Oscar fell down. a stark reminder and testament to the fact that everything is fallible, even greatness.
God be with Reeva’s family.
portrait shot by tim mantoani.