Hamilton Wende - Oscar Pistorius

Our Need For Truth And Forgiveness

Photo Credit: Thomas Serer on Unsplash.

I have covered the Oscar Pistorius saga ever since that terrible Valentine’s Day in 2013 when he shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp.

His fall from the heights of human endeavour, crowned with great success is a morality tale for all humanity – the dangers of hubris and of losing control of our emotions lie in wait to destroy us if we let them.

Last week, I was outside the Atteridgeville Prison near Pretoria when he was granted parole, after serving half his sentence for murder. I don’t know what truly happened that night. Nobody except Oscar himself does. He was legally eligible for parole, and I’m satisfied that his release should be subject to the law which governs us all.

What struck me most deeply outside the prison last Friday were the emotional, psychological and spiritual meaning of his act. A brave and decent man, Rob Matthews, whose own daughter, Leigh, was brutally kidnapped and murdered in 2004 was the spokesperson for Reeva’s mother, June Steenkamp. He sat down at a table covered with a simple black cloth and faced the world’s press. In a quavering, but strangely powerful voice he read a statement from June. In it she said, through Rob, how she was too worn out to face Oscar or the media in person.
She described the pain she and her husband Barry, who died earlier this year, had lived with for years because of the murder of their daughter.
Open-hearted and visibly moved himself, Rob told us that June didn’t believe he’s been rehabilitated, is “concerned for the safety of any woman” if what she describes as “his temper and abusive behaviour towards women” has not been addressed in prison.

In words that go to the very heart of the meaning of Oscar’s brutality on that night she said: “I do not believe Oscar’s version, that he thought the person in the toilet was a burglar. In fact, I do not know anybody who does. My dearest child screamed for her life; loud enough for the neighbours to hear her. I do not know what gave rise to his choice to shoot through a closed door four times at somebody with hollow-point ammunition when I believe, he knew, it was Reeva.”
Vitally, though, she also said this: “I have forgiven Oscar long ago, as I knew almost instantly that I would not be able to survive if I had to cling to my anger.”
At the end of the statement, Rob asked the crowd of journalists if they had any questions. For the first time in my decades-long career, I witnessed journalists unable to speak out, silenced in respect and humility for the compassionate humanity shown by Rob and by the moral enormity of what still haunts the uncertain memory of what happened that night over a decade ago.

There was nothing left for us to say, or to ask.
In that hot African summer afternoon outside the prison, the world was given a deep and powerful glimpse of the pain of a mother’s inconsolable loss, and the need for truth that lies at the very heart of the human condition.




This opinion piece written by Hamilton Wende was published in the Daily Maverick on 7 November 2023.

Hamilton Wende

Winner of the Standard Bank Sikuvile Journalism Awards for Columns and Opinion, 2023.

Winner of the 2022 National Press Club’s Journalist of the Year: Print/Online Features/ Investigative Journalism Award.

Author of 10 novels, including Red Air and House of War.

Author of a best-selling children’s adventure series called Arabella.

In television, he has worked for a number of international networks, including National Geographic, CNN, BBC, NBC, Al Jazeera English, ZDF, and ARD.

He has written hundreds of articles for publications including BBC, National Geographic Traveler, GQ, Maclean’s Magazine in Canada, TravelAfrica in the UK, The New Zealand Herald, The Buffalo News in the US, The Sunday Times, Business Day, The Sunday Independent in Johannesburg and many others.

In these high-stress, sometimes chilling and terrifying theatres of conflict; volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are commonplace.
Nothing is static, everything is fluid, and inevitably “no plan survives contact with the enemy”. If things can go wrong, they will go wrong.


Hamilton Wende

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