Oscar Pistorius arrest shocks South Africa
By Andrew England | Financial Times,
CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Oscar Pistorius, the South African track star who made history by becoming the first disabled athlete to compete at the Olympics, has been charged with murder after a women believed to be his girlfriend was found dead at his home with gunshot wounds.
Police said they were called to Pistorius’s house in Pretoria at about 4 a.m. Thursday morning where they discovered a 30-year-old woman who was already dead. Under South African law, Pistorius — nicknamed the “Blade Runner” — will not be formally identified until he appears in an open court.
But Brig. Denise Beukes, a police spokeswoman, confirmed that the incident had taken place at Pistorius’s house, and the runner was photographed at a police station Thursday. She said police were not looking for any other suspects and were “satisfied the person who has been arrested and charged is the only person involved.”
The victim was named in the local media as Reeva Steenkamp, a former model for the men’s magazine FHM and a law graduate whom Pistorius had reportedly been dating for several months.
Pistorius has not commented. But Kenny Oldwage, his attorney, told SABC, South Africa’s state broadcaster, that “he is doing well but very emotional.”
The allegations sent shock waves through South Africa and across the world as one of the most recognizable track figures prepared to spend the night behind bars and to appear in court.
The 26-year-old double amputee is renowned for his tenacious spirit, refusing to let his disabilities hold him back while taking the athletics world by storm in his trademark carbon fiber prosthetic blades. At last year’s London Olympics, he reached the semi-finals of the 400-meter event after fighting for his right to run against able-bodied athletes. He was surprisingly beaten in the 200-meter final of the Paralympics, an event whose profile his performances helped raise, but he was awarded hero status in South Africa.
“The general reaction is shock,” said Simnikiwe Xabanisa, deputy sports editor for Times Media, a South African group. “The country is kind of crestfallen at the moment because they don’t come bigger than Oscar Pistorius when it comes to sport stars. He was as big as anything.”
Jacob Zuma, South Africa’s president, singled Pistorius out as “our star performer” during his state-of-the-nation address to open Parliament last year as he called on the country to perform better at sports.
Keith Khoza, spokesman for the governing African National Congress, described the events as a “tragedy.”
“He has emerged as one of the people that really was a source of inspiration for most South Africans. For the young, he placed South Africa on the world map because of his abilities despite his handicap,” Khoza said. “He had done extremely well in making sport something that would contribute in bringing the nation together.”
But Pistorius has also courted controversy in the past.
The Associated Press reported that police said there had “previously been incidents at the home of Mr. Oscar Pistorius.”
Beukes, the police spokeswoman, confirmed that he had been arrested and spent a night in jail in 2009 after a woman pressed assault charges against him. The charges in that incident were withdrawn. The same year, he suffered facial injuries after a high-speed boat crash.
In an interview published in the New York Times last year, Pistorius recalled an incident in which he had grabbed his gun after a security alarm was triggered, then proceeded to take the interviewer to a firing range.
South Africa has one of the world’s highest crime rates, and some homeowners have guns for self-protection.
Beukes said that detectives were investigating allegations of a disturbance on Wednesday evening in the vicinity of Pistorius’s house but had not yet confirmed it was at his home.
The International Paralympic Committee offered its “deepest sympathy and condolences to all families involved.”
— Financial Times