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Sympathy and support for Pistorius as he faces state's wrath

Thalia Holmes

A sympathetic crowd gathered at the Pretoria Magistrate's Court to watch Oscar Pistorius make his first appearance on charges of murder.

Oscar Pistorius. (AFP)

The large media contingent had to compete for space with a determined crowd of "Oscar supporters". A hush fell over the packed, jostling courtroom at the Pretoria Magistrate's Court as international Paralympic superstar Pistorius walked in.

He was impeccably dressed: dark navy suit, blue collared shirt, slick hair and tie. His profile had the same chiselled lines that had caused his late girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, to remark on Twitter that he was "beautiful to look at" only two weeks ago. But this time, Steenkamp's only presence was in the charge dished out by the state.

Prosecuting advocate Gerrie Nel confirmed that the state would charge Pistorius with the premeditated murder of Steenkamp in the early hours of Valentine's Day.

Upon hearing the word "murder", Pistorius pressed his trembling lips together in an effort to contain his emotion. Unable to do so, he bowed his head and began to weep.

Behind him sat friends and family, many of whom were clearly irked by the crowd of journalists and camerapeople. Two rows back, Pistorius's sister Amy Pistorius appeared to pray silently while magistrate Desmond Nair deliberated an application by news channel eNCA to have the bail proceedings televised.

Amy seemed visibly relieved when Nair ruled that no live recordings of the event would be allowed. A few hours earlier, she had to fight her way through a crowd of scrambling media personnel who were being barred from the entrance of the court because it was too full. It took the persuasion of the two friends accompanying her to convince the police guarding the door to allow her into the court.

Pistorius's brother, Carl, only 18 months older than Oscar, sat in the first row. The brothers' physical resemblance is uncanny, but their facial expressions were markedly different. Pistorius broke down several times; Carl remained unemotional throughout.

'Most gentle person'
Perhaps most indicative of Pistorius's support were the friends who packed into the courtroom.

"He is the kindest, most gentle person. Never ever, ever would I have guessed this would happen," said a friend who has known Pistorius for five years, and asked to remain anonymous. "He would never brush off anyone. No matter where you were with him, every single time he saw people who wanted to talk to him, he would take two or three minutes to spend with them. Whether it was a signature or a hug, he would take the time."

Asked about previous allegations of violence against Pistorius, his friend said, "I don't believe it for a minute." The allegations were made up by people who were jealous of Pistorius, he said.

The source said he had met with Pistorius and Steenkamp several times, and that the couple was "so fun" together.

"He would tickle her leg and she would just scream with laughter." He said Pistorius would refer to Steenkamp as "my nunu".

Several hours after the crowds had first poured into the courtroom, Nair allowed for the bail proceedings to be postponed until next week Tuesday and Wednesday. In the meantime, he ruled that Pistorius would be held in the Brooklyn holding cells. This differs from normal procedure: suspects awaiting bail proceedings are usually held in the local prison cells.

However Nair accepted the defence's argument that the team needed to visit Pistorius over the weekend in order to prepare for court – something that could not easily be done in the local prison cells, where visiting rights are restricted.

Nair's decision has sparked lively debate on social media, with some objecting to the magistrate's decision to allow "preferential treatment" for the athlete.


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