Members of the ruling African National Congress Women's League march in Pretoria on the anniversary of the killing of Reeva Steenkamp. REUTERS/Stringer
Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius will stand
in a Pretoria dock to face a charge of murdering his
girlfriend, opening the decisive chapter in the story of the
rise and fall of one of the world's most recognisable
Barring a last-minute change of heart, the 27-year-old South
African will enter a plea of "not guilty", repeating his bail
hearing assertions that he killed model Reeva Steenkamp on
Valentine's Day 2013 after tragically mistaking her for an
intruder hiding in the toilet.
He has already admitted to culpable homicide, equivalent to
manslaughter, a crime that could see him put away for 15
years. Or he could leave the Pretoria High Court a free man,
with no more than a slap on the wrist and a suspended
Prosecutors will seek to prove that Pistorius - known as
"Blade Runner" after his carbon-fibre running prosthetics -
fired four rounds from a 9 mm pistol through the door of the
toilet adjoining the bedroom of his luxury Pretoria home in a
deliberate attempt to kill whoever was lurking behind it.
Steenkamp, a 29-year-old law graduate, women's rights
campaigner and regular on South Africa's celebrity party
scene, was hit three times, in the head, arm and hip. She was
declared dead on the scene.
Coming less than a month after the rape, disembowelling and
murder of a teenager near Cape Town, the case caused outrage
and drew further attention to the shockingly high levels of
violence against women in South Africa.
If the state succeeds in convincing Judge Thokozile Masipa of
intent to kill, Pistorius will go down for life, in all
likelihood a minimum of 25 years behind bars.
The trial before Masipa - juries were abolished by the
apartheid government in the 1960s - is set to last a minimum
of three weeks but with as many as 107 witnesses waiting to
be called by either side it is almost certain to last far
Most legal experts say proving intent in the absence of
direct witnesses will be tough. Some members of the public
are sceptical too.
"In this country money talks, so I don't know if there is any
justice, if justice really will be done," Pretoria resident
Kutullo Makgoba said.
Whatever the verdict, the career of an athlete who just 18
months ago had the admiration of the world is over - a
downfall as precipitous as that of American football star
O.J. Simpson, who was cleared in 1995 of murdering his wife
and a male friend.
When he reached the semi-final of the 400 metres at the 2012
Olympics competing against able-bodied athletes, the double
amputee was elevated to the pantheon of sporting greats, a
symbol of triumph over physical adversity.
After nearly a decade as the world's most recognisable
Paralympian, the Olympics transformed him into one of track's
most bankable stars, his rugged good looks and ready smile
winning sponsors as varied as sportswear giant Nike,
sunglasses maker Oakley, French designer Thierry Mugler and
British telecoms firm BT.
As he stood sobbing uncontrollably in the dock of a Pretoria
magistrate's court moments after being formally accused of
murder, those sponsors evaporated, depriving him of an
estimated $2 million a year in endorsement revenues.
The picture of Pistorius that emerged, both in court and in
the media, during the week-long bail hearing was a far cry
from the star's carefully groomed media-friendly persona.
Instead, the private Pistorius was revealed to be a
hot-headed young man with an obsession with weapons.
Police said they had found unlicenced .38 handgun ammunition
in his house, while his Twitter account revealed he had once
boasted of going into "full attack recon mode in the pantry"
after thinking an intruder was in his home.
In one widely reported incident, he accidentally discharged a
pistol under the table in a swanky Johannesburg restaurant.
In another, he put a bullet, in a fit of rage, through the
sun-roof of a previous girlfriend's car.
Critics pointed to the irony of a hastily pulled Nike advert
that showed Pistorius bursting out of the blocks beneath the
tagline: "I am the bullet in the chamber".
To counter the slew of allegations that have surfaced in the
media over the last year, Pistorius' public relations team
has set up a Twitter account (@OscarHardTruth) urging
followers: "Do not judge without knowledge. Allow the truth
Mindful of the domestic and global interest in the case, a
judge ruled on Tuesday the trial can be broadcast live, apart
from moments when witnesses request the cameras be turned
However, in his decision, Judge Dustan Mlambo also pointed to
the need for transparent justice, a nod to the inequality
that still marks South Africa two decades after the end of
apartheid and the view that wealth can skew trial outcomes.
"The justice system is still perceived as treating the rich
and famous with kid gloves whilst being harsh on the poor and
the vulnerable," Mlambo said.