Oscar Pistorius: South Africa police under spotlight
Exhibit A is, of course, Detective Hilton Botha, newly dismissed from his role as lead investigator in the Reeva Steenkamp murder case.
It was almost painful to watch his testimony to the court – selective, speculative, and clearly loyal to the prosecution – being picked apart by a highly paid defence lawyer until the detective was forced to concede that all his bold assumptions about Oscar Pistorius’s guilt were, on the current evidence, unsustainable.
But between those uncomfortable admissions lay another story, of an underpaid policeman arriving for an important job without the necessary equipment – shoe covers – to avoid contaminating the murder scene, and without enough “connections” – his word – or colleagues, to ensure that the most basic evidence could be processed in time for the bail hearing.
He had no records yet of Reeva Steenkamp’s mobile phone calls, no information about the post-mortem, no forensic or ballistic information beyond a few informal conversations with experts at the scene.
Other evidence about alleged “testosterone” proved wrong and the defence said its own investigators had found a bullet cartridge clumsily overlooked by the police.
Given that this is perhaps the most high-profile murder investigation that South Africa has seen in years, it makes you wonder what happens in other, more ordinary, cases.
It also makes you begin to understand why, for instance, the conviction rate for alleged rapists is pitifully low, and why so many police dockets are reported to “disappear” from the files, allowing suspects to walk free.
The suspiciously timed announcement that attempted murder charges have been reinstated against Detective Botha lends itself to speculation, both about the politicised power struggles within the state prosecutors’ office, and about a national police force scrambling to save face under the glare of the international media.
But to me it also speaks to South Africa’s notorious wealth gap, and to a culture where lavishly paid senior officials – be they politicians, police bureaucrats or defence attorneys – appear to live in a very different world from the underfunded, underequipped foot soldiers struggling to get a grip on this country’s enduring crime problem.