6 March 2014

South Africa: Stellar Witness List At Historic Pistorius Trial

Photo: Marco Longari/Sapa
South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius crying.

Cape Town — A host of celebrity sports stars and super models will feature among the 107 witnesses who will testify in the trial of Paralympic champion Oscar Pistorius, which started on Monday.

Oscar Pistorius went from golden boy to murder suspect on Valentine's Day last year after killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. But aside from the star-studded lineup, perhaps most crucial to this case are the statements of people who directly witnessed the events leading up to, and in the aftermath of, the shooting.

These include 23 police officers, Oscar Pistorius' sister and uncle, a weather forecaster, paramedics, ballistic and forensic experts and diners at a restaurant where a month before the Valentine's Day murder, Pistorius is said to have accidentally fired a gun shot in a busy Melrose Arch restaurant in Johannesburg, narrowly missing Kevin Lerena, a boxer and mutual friend of Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp.

Reeva was considered a 'rising star' in the modelling world. Not just a pretty face she was also a law graduate and her glamorous modelling career was intertwined with plans to pursue a career in law and the fight for the rights of women and children.

Reeva had been dating Paralympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius for a couple of months when she was killed in a shooting at his house in the early hours of February 14, 2013.

As South Africa's Mail&Guardian newspaper reported on the anniversary of her death, the petite blonde would have turned 30 in August last year.

Other witnesses expected to testify include Springbok rugby player, Francois Hougaard, and model, Samantha Taylor, who were on the state's provisional witness list last year

A former soccer player Mark Bachelor, who said that after an argument Pistorius had threatened to break his legs, is also expected to testify.

The now 27-year-old athlete is facing trial at the North Gauteng High Court in the South African capital Pretoria.

Pistorius faces a 25 years minimum in prison and life sentence if convicted of the murder. Pistorius' trial is set to become one of the biggest legal cases in the history of South Africa and has already drawn unprecedented media attention including for the first time in Africa a dedicated satellite TV channel.

In a landmark ruling for South Africa, a judge ruled last week that parts of the trial of the Paralympic athlete accused of murdering his girlfriend can be broadcast live on television.

Sitting at Pretoria High Court, Judge Dunstan Mlambo said broadcasting the proceedings would go "a long way" to dispelling the perception that the rich and poor were treated differently by the country's justice system.

He allowed the installation of small, fixed cameras that will live broadcast the opening and closing arguments of the lawyers, the evidence of experts, and the judgement and sentencing comments made by the trial judge.

The judge allowed the audio broadcasting of the entire trial including witness testimony, provided they (witnesses) did not object.

The ruling is a legal first in South Africa and was welcomed by the three media outlets that brought the application, eNCA, a leading independent TV news channel, Eyewitness News, a radio broadcaster, and Multichoice, a digital television channel that has set up a special Oscar Channel to cover the sensational trial.

Multichoice launched its Oscar Pistorius Trial: A Carte Blanche TV Channel on March 2, the day before the trial started.

The channel will run documentaries, interviews, profile segments as well as in-depth analysis of the court case, the star personalities who will testify, and on Pistorius.

Aletta Alberts, Multichoice head of content, told reporters, "This channel will give our viewers in-depth coverage of the Oscar Pistorius trial, with a rich variety of content and social media integration."

"The editorial team responsible for the channel's conception and content are the very same journalists who have brought the world 25 years of credible, award-winning investigative reporting on news magazine show, Carte Blanche.

"The presenters are veteran news journalists Derek Watts, John Webb, Bongani Bingwa and Devi Sankaree Govender, top social media lawyer Emma Sadleir, experienced radio talk show host Leigh Bennie, heavyweight legal journalist and radio talk show host, David O'Sullivan and ex BBC presenter, Subniv Babuta," MultiChoice said.

"The Carte Blanche producers were the obvious choice to create and package the channel. Their mantra of 'You have the right to see it all' ensures viewers will get fair and balanced coverage of the trail," says Alberts.

The Oscar Pistorius TV channel will be available to DStv Premium, DStv Extra and DStv Compact subscribers.

Judge Dunstan Mlambo's decision has brought further comparisons between the Oscar Pistorius case and the 1995 trial in America of OJ Simpson, the American football player accused of killing his ex-wife, which was also televised and followed by millions around the globe.

Another OJ Simpson connection is the fact that among the experts on the DStv channel will be former OJ Simpson defence attorney Robert Shapiro.

Previous applications by the state television company, SABC, to televise trials including that of now President Jacob Zuma for corruption in 2006 have been turned down in the past.

Pistorius' legal team had opposed the application arguing that broadcasting the events would lead to an unfair trial and create a media "circus".

Barry Roux, Pistorius' lawyer, argued that his client's trial should be treated like any other, and televising it could see witnesses tailor their evidence.

The National Prosecuting Authority initially backed Pistorius' objections, but withdrew them on the basis that witnesses would not be "intimidated or exposed" by the cameras.

Meanwhile, the HumanIPO website reports that "Social media channels have tended to be dominated by Pistorius when events regarding his murder trial take place, #oscarpistorius having taken over Twitter last March when the athlete's bail conditions were eased."

The report continued: The Pistorius family has spoken out about the social media commentary surrounding the case, saying the "disregard" to the grief the family is feeling being shown by many commenting is "troubling".

According to the website, "A legal expert has also suggested certain Tweets regarding the case could be defamatory, as Pistorius has not been found guilty and as such those tweeting conclusions about his guilt could face legal action.

And as social media once again turns its attention to the case, there has already been social media controversy in South Africa after the globally renowned Charly's Bakery, which is the star of reality TV show Charly's Cake Angels, got it wrong when they tweeted a picture showing a range of cookies based on Oscar Pistorius memes (an Internet meme is an idea, style or action which spreads, often as mimicry).

The wording of the tweet suggests that it may well have been courting controversy with the image and the backlash against the bakery, which bills its cakes as "mucking afazing", was pretty intense with South Africans and others tweeting to express their anger and disappointment with the bakers.

Charly's then apologised with a tweet saying: We seriously got it wrong with the #OscarMedia Meme cookies & we are hanging our collective heads in shame. #WeAlwaysRememberReeva

The bakery later tried to explain the motivation behind making the cookies. The #OscarMedia cookies were NOT for sale. Our intention was to stimulate debate as we always do with topical issues in the media.

But South Africans were having none of it with one tweep Martin Slabbert (@martinslabbert) summing up the general feeling with his tweet that said: @charlysbakery Still not good enough. You had intentions to sell that, therefore, make money from it. Distasteful. Disrespectful. Disgusting.

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