Fleeing his residence amidst allegations of a bounty on his life, Oscar Pistorius has sought refuge at his uncle’s home. The once-acclaimed athlete, now portrayed as bloated and grey, remains haunted by the shadows of the past, steadfastly denying any involvement in the murder for which he was accused.
While he may be physically free, the specter of perpetual vigilance looms as he navigates an uncertain future.
- Oscar Pistorius is a free man after being smuggled out of prison by officials
For the family of the woman he shot and killed, the release of Oscar Pistorius from prison yesterday is an event they have dreaded for years.
The former Olympian hero’s claim that he thought he was firing his gun at an intruder on the night he killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his South African home in 2013 is one they have never accepted.
A year before he died last September, Reeva’s father Barry Steenkamp visited Pistorius at St Albans prison in the South African coastal city of Port Elizabeth hoping to get an admission of guilt from the double-amputee ex-sprinter.
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Their ‘victim-offender’ dialogue in 2022 was part of the rehabilitation programme that 37-year-old Pistorius had to undertake before being considered for parole.
During the meeting, Barry read out a heart-rending letter from Reeva’s mother June, in which she described the agony of life without her beloved daughter; the wedding dress they would never buy together; the grandchildren Reeva would never be able to give her.
While leaked prison records revealed this week that Pistorius wanted to say sorry to Reeva’s parents for the pain and suffering he has caused their family, as far as they are concerned such an apology would be worthless unless he first admits that he deliberately shot and killed Reeva. Pictured: Pistorius and Reeva in Johannesburg, South Africa
For the foreseeable future the man known to his family as ‘Ozzie’ will live with his paternal uncle, property tycoon Arnold, who raised him and his siblings after the death of their mother in 2002 and their estrangement from their own father, Henke.
Arnold has offered Pistorius a luxury cottage in the landscaped grounds of his £2 million, three-storey home — a 12-bedroom converted church on a gated estate up in the hills of Pretoria’s upmarket Waterkloof suburb with an indoor cinema, gym and outdoor pool.
It was here that Pistorius, who is said to have become a devout Christian while in prison and encouraged fellow inmates to read the Bible and worship Jesus, stayed while on bail in the aftermath of Reeva’s murder and while awaiting trial.
He is now said to be a chain-smoker, bloated and grey, and almost unrecognisable from the super-fit athlete who the year before he killed Reeva was named as South Africa’s best-dressed man by GQ magazine.
Arnold’s home, which has a front gatehouse, is surrounded by razor wire and an electric fence. As well as a sign indicating the name of the house, Bateleur — a type of African eagle that preys on snakes — blue and yellow placards ward off potential intruders with the warning ‘ADT Rapid Response’.
Pistorius’s cottage has also been fitted with panic alarms. His uncle, the patriarch of the vastly wealthy Pistorius family, is said to have hired extra armed guards and bought attacks dogs to ensure his nephew is safe. The ex-athlete’s former headteacher, Bill Schroder, who visited him in prison on several occasions, has previously said that he feared being released.
‘He spoke of his fears about how he will be treated by the public when he is out, as he knows those who support him, but he knows there are many others who don’t,’ Schroder said.
Indeed, nearly 11 years after he brutally killed Reeva, there are fears that Pistorius could be the target of revenge attacks by criminal figures.
Such fears were first raised during his trial when his lawyers alleged that a prison gang leader had threatened to ‘take out’ Pistorius if he was given preferential treatment in jail.
During his trial, two notorious underworld figures appeared in the public gallery. One of them, Marc Batchelor, a former footballer who alleged that Pistorius had threatened to break his legs during a row over a girl, was shot dead five years later in a gangland hit. Another, who made regular appearances in court was self-confessed contract killer Mikey Schultz.
Pistorius was first incarcerated in Kgosi Mampuru II in Pretoria, a maximum security prison which houses some of South Africa’s most violent criminals and is ruled by ruthless gangs. But because of his fame, and fears he would be attacked, he was placed in the prison’s hospital wing.
Just four months into his sentence it emerged that he was surviving on tinned food from the prison tuck shop for fear of being poisoned. He was said to have lost so much weight that his prosthetic limbs no longer fitted him.
In 2017 he was injured during a fight with another inmate over a prison telephone.
As well as watching his back as he enjoys his first taste of freedom, Pistorius will have to take part in programmes on gender-based violence and continue to attend anger management counselling.
A female sports journalist who went to interview Pistorius at home on Valentine’s Day 2012 — exactly a year to the day before he shot Reeva — told me this week that when she met the former athlete, he seemed to her a man ‘on the edge’, who was friendliness personified one minute and then furiously bad-tempered the next.
‘He was absolutely wired when I met him,’ says the journalist who, with a photographer, spent a day and half with Pistorius in Pretoria after he had met the qualifying ‘A’ standard to run in the 400 metres at the 2012 Olympic Games in London that July as well as the Paralympic Games.
He later became the first amputee runner to compete in the Games and carried the South African flag in the closing ceremony. He also won gold in the Paralympic 400m.
‘He was constantly swigging from caffeine drinks or drinking coffee because he was trying to get his weight down. There were packets of caffeine pills in his car. He was on edge all the time.’
She recalls how Pistorius, whose lower limbs were amputated as a baby due to a birth defect, drove around Pretoria’s leafy suburbs in his black BMW like a racing driver. A painting of the Rebel Without A Cause actor James Dean hung on the wall of his home, where empty beer bottles were scattered around the open-plan sitting room.
‘He certainly liked to party,’ she says. ‘I remember wondering how on earth he was going to be in shape in time for the Olympic Games.’
At his home — the home where a year later he would kill Reeva — he kept two fierce-looking dogs. When Pistorius realised that the journalist was afraid of the bull terrier and American pit bull, he pointed out one of them and told her: ‘The last journalist who came here, he ripped their toenail off. There was blood everywhere.’
At another point during their encounter, Pistorius lost his temper out of nowhere, swearing prolifically. ‘He properly flew off the handle,’ she says, ‘but then later on he was over-the-top nice and greeted me like a long-lost friend. I thought he was unhinged. I instinctively disliked him.’
Messages found on Reeva’s phone after her death revealed that she was also deeply disturbed by Pistorius’s frequent tantrums. In one text sent to him just weeks before her brutal death she wrote: ‘I’m scared of you.’
June Steenkamp, who launched The Reeva Rebecca Steenkamp Foundation in the wake of her daughter’s death to empower women against violence, is in no doubt that Reeva was in fear the night she died.
‘I believe that Reeva wanted to leave him that night and ran to the toilet in fear to hide from him. The evidence in court leaves me with no doubt that he knew it was Reeva behind the toilet door when he fired four black talon bullets through the door,’ she told the Mail this week. ‘Those bullets explode when they hit human flesh. He knows guns, and he knew what those bullets would do to my beautiful daughter. He knew it would kill her.’
Pistorius, who regularly visited a shooting range near his home, made no secret of the guns and crickets bats he kept at his luxury bachelor pad home. When interviewing him there in 2012, a sports journalist from this newspaper saw the 9mm pistol Pistorius kept next to his bed and what looked like a semi-automatic rifle by the bedroom window.
When asked why they were needed when there were already guards outside his home, Pistorius replied: ‘It’s when the guards are in on the burglary that you need the guns.’
During his trial in 2014, Pistorius was portrayed as irresponsible and trigger-happy by the prosecution. A month before he killed Reeva, he let off a friend’s gun under a table in a restaurant in Pretoria, leaving a hole in the floor and grazing another friend’s foot. On another occasion, he fired a gun through a moving car’s sunroof.
Reeva’s uncle, Mike, says that from the moment Pistorius is free ‘everybody will be watching to see what happens as his life goes forward. It’s up to him now.’
In the meantime, the family want to deal with what they see as a terrible affront by focusing on the work of the Foundation they set up in Reeva’s memory.
Speaking after his release yesterday, Reeva’s mother June said: ‘Oscar Pistorius’s release on parole, subject to certain conditions, has affirmed Barry’s and my belief in the South African justice system.
‘The conditions imposed by the parole board, which includes anger management courses and programmes on gender-based violence, send out a clear message that gender-based violence is taken seriously.
‘Has there been justice for Reeva? Has Oscar served enough time? There can never be justice if your loved one is never coming back, and no amount of time served will bring Reeva back. We, who remain behind, are the ones serving a life sentence.
‘With the release of Oscar Pistorius on parole, my only desire is that I will be allowed to live my last years in peace, with my focus remaining on the Reeva Rebecca Steenkamp Foundation, to continue Reeva’s legacy.’
It is a sentiment that Mike fully supports. ‘We want to concentrate on other people who need help in life,’ he tells me.
‘What happened to Reeva must never happen to anyone else.’