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Oscar Pistorius: Sideshows add to courtroom drama

Phillip De Wet, Niren Tolsi

The third day of bail application, the state staged a comeback when the case seemed to be going the defence's way.

Oscar Pistorius. (Siphiwe Sibeko, Reuters)

The third day of Olympian and Paralympian Oscar Pistorius’s bail application hearing was one of the strangest so far: the magistrate Desmond Nair called a quick adjournment because of a “threat” outside court – there was none – and eccentrics also emerged from the woodwork.

Thursday ended with state prosecutor Gerrie Nel staging a theatrical comeback – Wednesday’s proceedings appeared to belong to Pistorius’s defence – by painting the athlete, who stands charged with the premeditated murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on February 14, as a “violence-prone” individual who “wanted to continue with his life as if this incident never happened”.

The day began in a surreal manner. A middle-aged female interloper, unknown to either counsel but identifying herself only as “Annemarie”, attempted to approach the court to get Pistorius declared insane, while she herself appeared to be muttering about smoking cigarettes in court and having her constitutional rights infringed.

Neither counsel had any comment to make on her approach and Nair was having none of it. He did not allow her in court and told her to file a high court application if there were objections.

This, and a turbaned individual in a kilt and leopard-skin tights alternately blowing a cow horn and praying outside the court, made for an interesting sideshow to the bail application.

 

Graphic: John McCann

Earlier in the day, Nel tried to salvage a case that appeared to have foundered on the testimony of the investigating officer, Hilton Botha, on Wednesday, which had left him – and, to some extent, the entire police force – back on the stand on Thursday morning, both in court and in the court of public opinion.

The policeman, who was on Thurs­day removed as the investigating officer, had previously admitted to contaminating the crime scene by walking through it without protection for his shoes and other bungled, unconvincing attempts at detective work.

Pressing concerns
The national police commissioner Riah Phiyega announced on Thurs­day afternoon that the case had been reassigned to “the most senior detective in the SAPS”, the divisional commander of detective services, Lieutenant General Vinesh Moonoo.

Early morning revelations that Botha is himself still subject to seven charges of attempted murder – recently reinstated – drew a mixture of concern and outrage, and seemed to throw the state’s case into disarray.

But when Nair called Botha back to the stand to question him directly, he never referred to the charges. Instead he gave the investigating officer a stern talking-to, suggesting that he should have testified in Afrikaans and saying it “sounds to me like there was some lack of urgency” in the investigation.

Among Nair’s most pressing concerns was that police had not yet received records of Steen­kamp’s cellphone calls on the night of her death. He also sought clarity on previous allegations of aggressive behaviour by Pistorius.

Things took another strange turn when Nel read directly from a recent edition of Afrikaans women’s magazine, Sarie. In an interview, Pistorius expressed his love of South Africa, but spoke about a house he had the use of in Italy that had been refurbished with a sauna and an athletics track for his personal use by the local mayor. The state has implied that Pistorius may flee to that house.

Pistorius’s counsel, Barry Roux, had earlier said that the athlete did not “own” a house in Italy.

Roux, meanwhile, had continued to suggest during his closing argument that Pistorius’s version of events did fit in with the objective facts before the court and that Botha had “picked evidence to bolster the state’s case”.

Judgment is expected on Friday.


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