Every twist and turn of the trial of Olympic and Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius has divided South Africa and resonated around the world ever since the Valentine Day shooting of model and law graduate Reeva Steenkamp. It was no different when curtains came down on Tuesday with the trial judge sentencing him to five years in jail claiming she was trying to strike a balance between mercy and retribution. Under South Africa’s judicial system, this means he will serve just 10 months in prison before being placed under house arrest. Expectedly, the verdict has evoked mixed reactions. Some say that Pistorius is a broken man who has suffered enough. Others feel that the killer should have been made to pay for the cold-blooded murder that he committed.
It isn’t difficult to understand why the trial of Pistorius captured global attention from its opening in March. The spectacular downfall of a star who had overcome disability to become an Olympic champion, the emotional outbursts in the courtroom, the long painstaking descriptions of how bullets were fired through a door, causing the death of a woman, the drama had all elements of a Hollywood thriller. But, after all the emotion and suspense, the main lesson to take away should be about South Africa itself.
This has been a seminal trial in a country where major democratic and social transformations remain unfinished. Twenty years after the end of apartheid, and almost one year after the state funeral of Nelson Mandela, the Pistorius trial has been something of a mirror held up to new South Africa. South Africa still battles with issues of race, social inequality and difficult governance, but the spirit of seeking “mercy” and “achieving the right balance”, as expressed by Judge Masipa, is also testimony to the admirable path that the country has nevertheless travelled over the past two decades.