Oscar’s Sentence: A Missed Opportunity?

The sentence that Judge Masipa has decided on reflects the careful balancing act required of a diligent sentencing officer. She has taken the calls by the State for direct imprisonment into account but not to the extent the prosecutor wanted; she has taken into account the call by the defence for Oscar to make a contribution to society by not imposing as lengthy a term of imprisonment as she could have. Her sentence imposing the maximum imprisonment possible in terms of Section 276 1(i) of the Criminal Procedure Act, 1977 means he will be eligible to have the sentence of 5 years converted into correctional supervision after he has served one sixth (10 months).

However, from a restorative justice perspective this sentence suggests some missed opportunities. Although she has done so within tight limits, Judge Masipa has still retained the conventional currency of punishment to arrive at a sentence and to denounce Oscar’s actions. She does not seem to have recognised the limitations of punishment and that it is not the only way to ensure a person accepts the consequences of their actions or to denounce a wrongful and tragic act. Had she done so, there may have been other, more creative, tangible and constructive dimensions she could have incorporated in her sentence. Apart from trying to address the needs of the Steenkamp family, the voices of those who are actively engaged in the broader dimensions that were raised during this trial could have been drawn in. These are some of the broader dimensions that could have been explored:

  • How could Reeva’s life be honoured in the longer term and perhaps be seen as symbol of the countless other less famous women who have suffered similar fates? One way of doing this could be to establish a trust in her name to raise and disseminate funds for services in the area of intimate partner violence.

  • How do we draw attention in ongoing ways to the reality that a young woman’s life has been lost in a complex mix of fear, interpersonal relations and the availability of firearms, and that this reflects the vulnerability of so many South Africa women in their homes?

  • In what practical ways can Pistorius accept responsibility for Steenkamp’s death, and are there ways in which he can make things right? Are there ways he could contribute to addressing the broader issues of intimate partner violence and the risks that firearms pose? Are there ways in which he could acknowledge the privilege he has experienced even during this trial, and work to make the justice system more accessible to all?

  • What risk does Pistorius pose to South African communities and society, given his apparent love of firearms and his reckless attitude in using them? What steps could be taken to help him realise how problematic this behaviour and attitude is and support him in changing it?

  • Are there ways that this sentence could be used to promote greater awareness of the sanctity of human life and how fragile it is?

Even though the sentence has been decided on, perhaps these matters can still be attended to during the course of the sentence.

Issued by:

Mike Batley

Consultant to the Restorative Justice Centre

mike@rjc.co.za

tel 0722143880

15 October 2014