In jail, out of jail

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.




  1. Vicky, where is the photo of “The photograph in Sanele’s article showed him with relatives of one of the victims of the crash to whom he had apologised”… we’ve never seen it… and the accident happened on the 5th, not the 6th. And lastly his parents did not die of Aids, his mother died with a younger brother of Sanele in a fire, and his father’s where abouts are unknown… thank you Carmen… a member of Sanele May Support Group…
    a reply is eagerly awaited….

    1. Hi Carmen Thank you for your comments and corrections. I apologise having made the errors. To get the date of the accident was quite difficult to find the date of the accident as I went to Google for this and it was shown as both the 5th & 6th on different sites but as 7pm on 6 Sept was the most common that I could find I used the 6th. The article with the photo was on page 2 of the Sunday Tribune of 19 June 2016. It was in that article that his parents died of AIDS. The photo was of Sanele, a woman said to be a relative of one of the victims and a woman from Amanzimtoti of whom it was said that she was also part of the support group. I shall correct the blog accordingly. That said, I do not believe that these errors take anything away from the message of my blog which was to show the appalling difference in the treatment of defendants. And I believe that what you and the other members of the Support Group have done for him is wonderful.

      1. Hi.. no, it doesn’t take anything away from your article, it was a very interesting read… i have been on Sanele’s ‘journey’ with him since it horribly began… going to all his Court appearances and visiting him in both prisons…this lady from ‘Toti i would love to know her name… if you have it, please give it to me, the Group’s page owner must chat to her if she is giving out wrong info.. and that photo, please send to me, i usually do the photos for the group, and i know lots of media take photos as well, but this photo intrigues me now… i also keep in close contact with Sanele’s family in Swaziland….
        thanks for your quick reply…

  2. Carmen I shall try to get a copy of the photo and the article. I did not keep them unfortunately. My domestic worker takes all my newspaper it would seem that I left that one in the same place as I leave things for her.

  3. Hi Vicki… i contacted 2 family member’s of Sanele… this is what they told me re: Sanele’s parents… Sanele’s mother died a long time ago around 1996, she was very ill but it wasn’t from AIDS… the person who died in the house fire was Sanele and his brother’s Grandmother…. no one has any knowledge as to the whereabout of Sanele’s father – i hope that helps you in correcting the facts and info….

  4. Hi Carmen. I have not forgotten about the article but it seems as if the only place that I might get it is from Independent Newspapers themselves.

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