The Economist sees the bright side of Oscar Pistorius murder trial

A few days ago, The Economist explained why violence against women in South Africa is not as bad as we think. The magazine’s effort to set some inflated accounts of violence straight was stirred by (what else) the trial of the South African paralympic Oscar Pistorius who killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. While the trial itself is quite representative for what fuels violence against women in the country by illuminating Oscar’s apartheid-bred, dominating and violently possessive masculinity and by showing how much more value the criminal justice system accords to the lives of white women compared to black women, this is not what the Economist chose to pick up.

Instead, they use the trial to emphasize the rosier side of the story: Female homicide (perpetrated both by partners and non-partners) may still be around four times higher than the global average, the numbers have decreased significantly these past ten years, and therefore, The Economist infers, violence against women is not as bad as many think it is. Moreover, and I quote “South Africa’s violence is, if anything, more heavily skewed towards men than in most countries. Only 15% of victims are women.”

To be sure, it is high time that myths and popular misconceptions around violence get dispelled (the racist comments below the article are an awful case in point), but ‘explanations’ like this one are more likely to further blur, rather than reveal the facts. First of all, violence is more than murder. If you are assaulted (for example by your teacher), abused, battered, trafficked or sexually molested for being a girl, a woman or a lesbian, yet your attackers did not kill you; did you not suffer violence?

By conflating murder with violence, and neglecting the fact that the vast majority of perpetrators of violence are men, the Economist provides an embarrassing and painful testimony to the culture of impunity that surrounds domestic and sexual violence against women and girls. It’s unnoticed, overlooked, not taken seriously, and, as we see, not even worthy of the ‘violence’ label if it’s not lethal.  And it’s not just media outlets, such as The Economist who are this selective. Criminal justice systems (around the world) don’t take it all too serious either.

In the case of South Africa, this means that sexual violence against women may be estimated to exceed 500.000 cases a year (with an alarming increase of violence against lesbian women–not just in townships) but that only one out of twenty-five perpetrators is convicted. With regards to murder, men who kill white women are more likely to be convicted than those who kill black women (for domestic workers the rates are even lower). For women who were murdered by a man who was not their partner, the likelihood of conviction has even gone down with 30% between 1999 and 2009.

So for accurate, detailed and nuanced information about violence against women in South Africa,  instead of The Economist, check out this report, prepared by the Masimanyane Women’s Support Centre.

Meanwhile, some still think Pistorius is innocent, waiting for him with balloons on the days of his court appearances:



Maria Hengeveld

Maria Hengeveld is a graduate student at Columbia University. Previously she lived in Cape Town, South Africa.

  1. For us who can read, the article is only commenting on murder statistics.
    And if the murder rate for women fell by half in a decade?
    You may want to check your link.

  2. Hi, thanks for your comment. That’s both the problem and the point,though: It’s drawing on only one (out of many) component of violence to ‘comment’ on violence in general. If my article didn’t make that point clear, perhaps look at the actual title of the (Economist) piece again? thanks

    1. My instinct tells me this (and it’s usually right):
      – the girlfriend probably had a repeating fight with her Oscar
      – she probably told Oscar something along the lines of ‘you invalid useless piece of shit…etc etc..’ emphasizing the fact that he no longer has legs like ‘other more perfect males she could date’
      – NATURALLY, Oscar gets very upset. And possibly kills her out of anger.

      Now, to describe the feeling Oscar must have had, let me just use an analogy here that comes to mind: if your own gf accuses you of being legless, while you ARE what you ARE (like when you ARE black person, you will REMAIN black). Naturally, there is little Oscar can do to change his own ‘state’. The problem in the western culture, is the complete disrespect for the elderly, the weak and the sick (or disabled). One will hardly come across a disabled guy who is marrying a young beauty. Why? no parents would allow their daughter to marry a disabled guy!!!! see, that’s the SICK mind of the western culture. In lots of other cultures, like India, asia etc, parents consider it an HONOUR to let their only daughter marry off to a disabled person to take care of him. But not in the west!

      Which brings me to the complete lack of respect from westerners towards people that are not the ‘norm’ (white + abled + well educated etc etc). When i try to think of what could have possibly angered Oscar so much that he killed someone, only one thing comes to mind: someone was accusing him in a racist way about what he IS, eg the STATE HE IS IN (which he could never change), and that…that works exactly like a racist deed: it drives the opponent to kill the assaulter, because of the sheer unfairness and lack of dignity of the attack.

      1. Whoa!! Definitely don’t like your inference that murder is caused by the attitude of the victim so is something a person brings on themselves. Reeva was a prominent anti-bullying campaigner. there are more ways than direct insults to make a person resent you. For example they argue yet again Valentine’s is getting ruined reefs dresses after an hour of it but pistorius physically bars her then they tussle But he’s on stumps so she forces him away tries again her jeans come off as he’s trying not to let go at that point yeah she yells at him grabs her phone and skirts round him marches down the passage to phone police to get them come escort her safely out. Pistorius realise the gun give him his power back and is stronger than a wooden door stronger than a phone call and stronger than a girl that easily overpowered him cos of his mobility. So it prove the solution to how to keep the upper hand in those critical moments when it seem completely necessary to him to win…as on the athletics track or in court. She did nothing wrong in this scenario but he wanted a different kind of girlfriend that just does what she’s told? He’s said that in a magazine interview with an ex more or less…some girls like it as well but this pair were both two headstrong and pistorius got a mental problem I think where he doesn’t know how to back down til it is too late. He realise after how much of a fuck up it all was but still got the same mental problem refusing to admit any faults….

        That’s just one idea for how his ‘state’ could be part of motive but wherethe victim never provoked she just did not submit enough, either….character clash, insecure male, solved by a gun?

        Btw even if she called him cruel insults he should just ask her to leave not execute her for that…since she bought him Valentine’s gift and was by all accounts overly nice to everyone it seems unlikely she was actually malicious, though assertive and standing ground for sure but that makes it pistorius issue…not hers!!

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