On opening the The Independent on Saturday of 18 June 2016 to page 2 my eye was immediately drawn to 2 similar situations with 2 completely different outcomes. One was a half-page 2 column write up on Oscar Pistorius’ sentence hearing accompanied by a photograph of Oscar walking on his stumps in the court room. Next to this was a quarter page article about Sanele May with a small photo of him with a relative of one of the victims who was killed when he lost control of the lorry he was driving down Fields’ Hill, Pinetown a hill with a 1:15 gradient.It was not the size of the articles which really matter but their contents and the outcomes of their actions. Oscar is a world renowned disabled athlete who has done amazingly well, wearing his ‘blades’ and competing with able bodied athletes. Sadly, he also murdered his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp on 13 February 2013.The court proceedings have been televised and shown the world over. Oscar’s legs were amputated below the knee at the age of 11 months, his parents divorced when he was fairly young and his mother died suddenly when he was 15. As he and his father did not have a good relationship, Oscar went to live with his aunt and uncle in Waterkloof, the upmarket area of Pretoria.
Sanele May is a young man from Swaziland who made his way to South Africa, albeit illegally, through the Kruger National Park, desperate to find work and a means to feed himself. Little is known about him as he did not achieve anything to make him known to the general public. He is not an athlete, a socialite, an academic or a politically aligned person. In fact, he did not even get to finish school. He is just a young man whose Grandmother died in a house fire, his mother was very ill before she died and there whereabouts of his father are unkown.
The Defence panel in the case of Oscar and the shooting of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, immediately appealed the sentence of 5 years but the Supreme Court of Appeal did not change it and so Oscar finally went to jail, almost 2 years after the murder. The next we, the Public, heard was that he was to be paroled on 21 August 2015, having served all of 8 months of his sentence. Just 2 days before he was to be released the Commissioner of Police stopped it as he said that Reeva’s family had not been allowed to comment. Oscar was finally paroled on 20 October 2015 under house arrest. For him this meant in a mansion with high walls and opulent wrought iron gates in the leafy suburb of Waterkloof.
Sanele was immediately remanded in custody and has not left prison since the accident happened on 6 September 2013. He had no money for a high power defence team and he was convicted of murder of 23 people and sentenced to 8 years and 10 months in jail. There was no Leave to Appeal either the conviction or sentence so he went straight back to jail. On discovering his plight a group in Pinetown have rallied to support him and, until about 3 weeks ago, they were the only ones to visit him.
Oscar is still not in jail as he is only due to be sentenced on 6 July 2016. His sentencing hearing was held from 13-17 June. It was at this hearing both the Prosecution and the Defence presented mitigating circumstances both for and against incarceration. Each side presented evidence which they hoped would convince the judge that a) as a disabled person he should not go to jail or b) there is no reason for him not to go to jail as there are other disabled persons already there and the facilities are also available. Both the Prosecution and the Defence presented tactics to get the empathy of the judge. The Defence had Oscar walking around the Court Room on his stumps to show his vulnerability while the Prosecution requested and received permission for some of the photos of Reeva, after being shot, to be made public. The Judge agreed to this, but she selected only 6 photos.
For Sanele there was no opportunity to gain sympathy from the Judge or his Assessors. No one told the Court how he had to struggle just to survive once his parents had died. No one to show the media how he had struggled to get to Johannesburg to find work, went without food for days and slept in the open. Very different from Oscar who had family to support him when Sanele had only those local ladies to comfort and assist him with daily necessities. He did not even get any support from the owner of the lorry he was driving.
There was one major difference highlighted in the 2 articles. The photograph in Sanele’s article showed him with relatives of one of the victims of the crash to whom he had apologised, accepted that he needed to pay for his actions and asked the families to forgive him. According to the article about Oscar, he has yet to accept responsibility for his actions and to apologise to the Steenkamp family for killing Reeva. Everything said or done by him or his defence is about him and his situation even to the point that he said that had Reeva been alive she would have wanted him not to go to jail but to be free to continue working with the under-privileged.
What we have here are 2 people, each convicted of murder, but one who was incarcerated in September 2013, immediately after the accident, and never been out except to attend his court hearings and then the other with wealthy family members caring for him as he waits to be sentenced and maybe go to jail unless he is granted leave to appeal this sentence.
Once again, MONEY AND POPULARITY TALK !!