TIME South Africa

South Africa Shuts Down First Pro-Gay Mosque

The religious cite is apparently in violation of a city law about parking spaces

Local officials in Cape Town, South Africa, have shuttered the country’s first mosque that welcomes gay people and allows women to lead prayers, citing a municipal code violation.

Cape Town city councilor Ganief Hendricks tells the BBC that the Open Mosque, which only opened on Friday, was in violation of a city law that requires one parking space per 10 worshippers at a place of worship. Hendricks said the mosque also failed to secure a permit to convert use of the building from a warehouse to a place of worship, which can take up to six months.

Members of the mosque, which drew harsh criticism from some segments of the local Muslim community, contend the city’s crackdown is an effort to close the mosque for good.

“We have freedom of religion and expression in this country,” said mosque founder Taj Hargey. “No one has the right to tell anyone what to believe in. This is a gender-equal mosque, autonomous and independent and will remain so.”

Hendricks maintains that the issue is not one of religious persecution but of a city zoning law.

“This is an emotive issue – some councillors who are Muslim would want to defend the issue more vigorously than those that aren’t but the bottom line is we have to make sure that the rules are followed,” he said.

[BBC]

TIME South Africa

South Africa: Park Staff Arrested for Poaching

(JOHANNESBURG) — A ranger and two other employees of South Africa’s parks service were arrested on suspicion of rhino poaching in the country’s flagship wildlife reserve, the agency said Monday.

The three suspects were found with a hunting rifle and ammunition in the Lower Sabie area of Kruger National Park, which has been hit hard by rhino poachers, many of whom cross over from neighboring Mozambique, the South African National Parks service said in a statement. The arrests Sunday came after a recently killed rhino was found in the area, the agency said.

“These are the people that we entrusted with the welfare of these animals,” said Reynold Thakhuli, a spokesman for the parks service. “These are just elements that unfortunately have allowed themselves to be used by syndicates.”

Thakhuli said the alleged corruption was extremely disturbing, but noted the dedication of many rangers and other parks officials. The detentions came after an anti-poaching intelligence operation that included police and park employees, he said.

“It is unfortunate that those trusted with the well-being of these animals are alleged to have become the destroyers of the same heritage that they have a mandate to protect,” Abe Sibiya, the agency’s acting chief executive officer, said in a statement.

Kruger park lies in the northeast part of South Africa and is nearly 20,000 square kilometres (8,000 square miles), almost the size of small countries such as Israel and El Salvador. Hundreds of rangers patrol the park with some air support and backing from the South African military, but conservationists say more resources are needed to adequately protect Kruger’s wildlife.

Home to most of the world’s rhinos, South Africa is struggling to stem a surge in rhino poaching in recent years as demand for rhino horn rises in some parts of Asia, including China and Vietnam. Some people view rhino horn as a status symbol and a healing agent, despite a lack of evidence that it can cure. The horn is made of keratin, a protein also found in human fingernails.

TIME South Africa

Judge In Pistorius Trial Faces Criticism

Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius sits in the dock looking in court in Pretoria, South Africa, on Sept. 12, 2014 Siphiwe Sibeko—AP

Police protection for Judge Masipa has been stepped up since the verdict Friday in the sensational case

(JOHANNESBURG) — Several legal groups in South Africa have expressed concern about threats and harsh criticism of the judge who found Oscar Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide, but not guilty of the more serious charge of murder.

Some South Africans said they were surprised and even shocked when Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled last week that the Paralympic champion was negligent but did not intend to kill when he fatally shot girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp through a closed toilet door. Pistorius said he thought a dangerous intruder was in his house; prosecutors alleged he intentionally killed Steenkamp after an argument.

Police protection for Masipa has been stepped up since the verdict Friday in the sensational case, South African media reported. The case will return to the global spotlight when Pistorius, who is free on bail, appears before the judge for a sentencing hearing on Oct. 13.

In a statement, three legal groups described a “wave of criticism” directed at Masipa that in some cases could border on hate speech, defamation and contempt of court. The comments include allegations that the judge is corrupt, as well as attacks on her race and gender.

“In judging, there’s a lot of analysis of the information before the court and applying the law to what is before you,” Thabang Pooe, a researcher at legal group SECTION27, said Tuesday. “Attacking the judge’sintegrity and making insinuations of bribery or that she’s not fit because she’s a woman, or that she’s black, means that you’re breaking down the belief in the law.”

Masipa, 66, is a former social worker and journalist who became one of the first black female judges in South Africa, which shed white racist rule in 1994. Her supporters have described her as a symbol of accomplishment in a country where poverty and unemployment remain obstacles for many people.

The legal groups, including SECTION27, the Legal Resources Centre and the Centre for Child Law, said people are entitled to disagree with the verdict and that the prosecution can appeal. Prosecutors have said they will decide whether to appeal after sentencing.

The sentence for a culpable homicide conviction is at the judge’s discretion and can range from a suspended sentence and a fine to as much as 15 years in prison. Legal experts have cited five years as a guideline.

Meanwhile, South African sports officials have said Pistorius can compete for South Africa again, as long as his running doesn’t go against the ruling of the judge.

Many legal analysts agreed with the judge’s ruling that Pistorius could not be found guilty of premeditated murder. But some believe the law supported a conviction on a lesser murder charge on the grounds that Pistorius knew someone — in his version, a perceived intruder— was behind the toilet door and also knew that firing four bullets into the door could cause that person’s death.

James Grant, an associate professor of law at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, said in an online analysis that “there appear to be errors of law” in Masipa’s judgment.

“The effect is that, if the state does appeal, and one may well expect that it will, Pistorius continues to face the prospect of a murder conviction,” Grant wrote.

TIME South Africa

Steenkamp Family Slams Pistorius Ruling

South African Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius leaves the High Court in Pretoria on Sept. 12, 2014 after the verdict in his murder trial where he was found guilty of culpable homicide.
South African Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius leaves the High Court after the verdict in his murder trial where he was found guilty of culpable homicide in Pretoria, South Africa on Sept. 12, 2014. Gianluigi Guercia—AFP/Getty Images

“Justice was not served,” said the victims mother

The family of Reeva Steenkamp, who was shot and killed by South African runner Oscar Pistorius last year, slammed the judge’s decision to acquit Pistorius of murder.

“He shot through the door and I can’t believe that they believe it was an accident,” June Steenkamp, Reeva’s mother, told NBC News. Pistorius was convicted of culpable homicide Friday but cleared of the more serious murder charge. The conviction carriers a minimum 5-year prison sentence but could be served out in the form of house arrest if at the judge’s discretion.

“I don’t really care what happens to Oscar,” June Steenkamp said in an interview with NBC News. “It’s not going to change anything because my daughter is never coming back. He’s still living and breathing and she’s gone, you know, forever.”

Pistorius will be sentenced next month.

[NBC News]

TIME Viewpoint

Lessons from the Pistorius Trial on Race, Guns and Class

South African Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius leaves the High Court in Pretoria on Sept. 12, 2014 after the verdict in his murder trial where he was found guilty of culpable homicide.
South African Paralympian athlete Oscar Pistorius leaves the High Court after the verdict in his murder trial where he was found guilty of culpable homicide in Pretoria, South Africa on Sept. 12, 2014. Gianluigi Guercia—AFP/Getty Images

The South African athlete escaped the worst possible outcome at his murder trial. But we're only beginning to grapple with the ramifications

Audiences have been gripped by the story of the South African sporting champion Oscar Pistorius, who was accused of shooting and killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year. In March, South Africa devoted a TV channel that allows 24-hour viewing of the trial, which dominated global headlines and Twitter feeds again this week as the verdict was announced. Pistorius was found not guilty of premeditated murder, the more serious charge, but was found guilty of culpable homicide—the equivalent of manslaughter. His sentence remains to be decided.

But what should we take away from the Pistorius case?

It’s clear that the media attention given to the trial is largely due to Pistorius’s iconic status as an international athlete. A double-amputee who went on to compete in the Paralympics and Olympics using prosthetic legs, Pistorius brought glory to South Africa in the 2012 London Games and inspired many with his motto: “You’re not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.”

But coverage of the trial has also been so extensive because the case has required us to probe deeper in order to understand the environment in which the crime took place. Pistorius’s defense was predicated on the argument that his response—shooting four times through a locked door at someone he believed to be an intruder—was a reasonable one. If Pistorius didn’t live in a nation with extraordinary high rates of violent crime, under a government tarred by corruption, his defense that he believed himself to be in danger would have been easier to dismiss. But in her verdict the South African Judge Thokozile Masipa reminded the world that her country’s endemic problems with violence does not excuse Pistorius. “Many people in this country have been victims of violent crime,” she said, “but they haven’t resorted to sleeping with guns under pillows.”

It’s no surprise that a great deal of the commentary has focused on what the trial can tell us about contemporary race relations and violent crime in a nation that abolished apartheid just 20 years ago. Despite the fact that whites make up only 8% of South Africa’s population, the majority of witnesses in the trial belonged to the same white, wealthy Afrikaner circle as Pistorius and Steenkamp, many of whom also lived in the couple’s elite high-security complex. The racial composition of the 37 witnesses shed lights on the kind of unofficial segregation and social inequality that still persists in South Africa today, where the average income of a white household is still six times higher than that of a black one.
It appears that the post-apartheid “rainbow nation” spoken of with such hope by Archbishop Desmond Tutu is still a ways off. Indeed, some commentators think the only reason the case has caught the world’s attention is because it is about a wealthy, successful white man and a beautiful, glamorous white woman. Yet others have seen the trial as an indication of the progress made in South African society—progress that has enabled Judge Masipa, a black woman who grew up poor in the Soweto township, to now determine the fate of a white man. And some have said the more pressing question is the problem of violence against women, an issue that cuts across national, racial and social borders.

However, there is a danger in taking what may be a deeply individual tragedy and viewing it as a reflection of an entire society. The fact that Pistorius is wealthy does not mean all white Afrikaners are, nor does the fact that Judge Masipa is black indicate that the legal profession in South Africa has achieved racial parity. We should try not to think of the trial as a mirror on South African society but rather as a window into a certain section of it, a window that has encouraged many of us to learn more about the country’s unique judicial system and broader social structure.

We all want to believe that the steps taken towards equality have led to unequivocal success. While great strides have been made, we must remember that a country can have black presidents and black judges and still struggle with lingering racism and segregation. We must ensure that as the trial draws to an end, we won’t be closing the door on the difficult conversations that need to be had about the way in which race, gender, wealth and power intersect—in South Africa, and far beyond.

TIME South Africa

Reeva Steenkamp’s Parents Say ‘Justice Was Not Served’ in Oscar Pistorius Verdict

June and Barry Steenkamp, parents of Reeva Steenkamp listen to the judgement of Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria
June (L) and Barry Steenkamp, parents of Reeva Steenkamp listen to the judgement of Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, South Afric on Sept. 11, 2014. Pool/Reuters

PRETORIA, South Africa—The family of model Reeva Steenkamp slammed a judge’s decision to acquit Oscar Pistorius of murdering their daughter, telling NBC News that “justice was not served.” Pistorius walked out of court on bail Friday after he was convicted of culpable homicide but cleared of a more serious murder charge. The double-amputee track star will be sentenced next month.

In an exclusive interview for NBC News, June and Barry Steenkamp expressed “disbelief” that the court believed Pistorius’ version of events. “This verdict is not justice for Reeva,” June Steenkamp said. “I just want the truth.”…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME South Africa

Oscar Pistorius Guilty of Culpable Homicide for Shooting Girlfriend

Verdict will be followed by sentencing hearing, and both sides retain the right to appeal the decision

A South African judge found athlete Oscar Pistorius guilty on Friday of culpable homicide in the killing of his girlfriend, one day after being acquitted of a murder charge.

Judge Thokozile Masipa announced the verdict in Pretoria after a six-month-long trial and extended the former Olympian’s bail until the start of his sentencing hearing on Oct. 13, the Associated Press reports. Culpable homicide, or negligent killing, with a firearm typically carries a five-year prison sentence in South Africa, the AP adds, but the judge can decide on a range of measures from a suspended sentence and a fine to up to 15 years in prison. Both Pistorius and the prosecution have the right to appeal the decision.

He was also convicted on one of three unrelated firearm charges.

Pistorius became the first double-amputee to compete at the Olympics two years ago in London, assuming icon status among disabled athletes. He was charged with premeditated murder after the fatal shooting of Steenkamp, 29, on Feb. 14, 2013, but declared not guilty of that charge on Thursday. Pistorius built his defense on the claim he mistook her for an early morning intruder, whereas the prosecution argued that he shot her in rage following an argument.

[AP]

TIME Crime

The Oscar Pistorius Case: How It All Began

The March 11, 2013, cover of TIME
The March 11, 2013, cover of TIME Cover Credit: PIETER HUGO / THE NEW YORK TIMES SYNDICATE

In March 2013, TIME took a deep look at the origins of the Pistorius case

The murder trial that transfixed the world for much of 2014 began drawing to a close on Thursday, as a South African judge found Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius “negligent” but not guilty of murdering his girlfriend. Pistorius, 27, fired four shots into a bathroom at his Pretoria home in the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013, killing model Reeva Steenkamp, but based his defense on thinking she was an intruder.

Global media relentlessly followed the case, which at times grew graphic and included a break so Pistorius’ mental health could be evaluated by experts. The judge is expected to issue a formal verdict on Friday, Sept. 12. Pistorius can still be found guilty of culpable homicide, or murder without premeditation, and may face years in prison.

Last March, TIME featured Pistorius in a cover story about this tragic series of events — not just it’s beginning between Pistorius and Steenkamp, but also in terms of the place of violence in South African society. The relationship between that culture and the famous athlete is a meaningful one, Alex Perry wrote:

If South Africa reveals its reality through crime, it articulates its dreams through sports. When in 1995—a jittery year after the end of apartheid—South Africa’s first black President, Nelson Mandela, adopted the Afrikaner game, rugby, and cheered the national team on to a World Cup win, he was judged to have held the country together. In 2010 his successors in the ANC delivered the message that Africa was the world’s newest emerging market and open for business through the faultless staging of a soccer World Cup.

Pistorius was the latest incarnation of South African hope. He was born without a fibula in either leg, and both were amputated below the knee before he reached his first birthday. Using prosthetics, Pistorius went on to play able-bodied sports at Pretoria Boys High School, one of the country’s most prestigious private schools, before a knee injury left him on the sidelines. Advised to run for his recovery, he began clocking astonishing times using carbon-fiber blades that copied the action of a cheetah. In 2012 in London, he took two Paralympic gold medals and one silver and ran in an Olympic final and semifinal.

That March 11, 2013, story is now available free of charge in TIME’s archives. Click here to read it in its entirety: Pistorius and South Africa’s Culture of Violence

TIME South Africa

Judge in Oscar Pistorius Trial Rules Out Murder

Judge may still rule Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide

The judge in the trial of Oscar Pistorius ruled on Thursday that the South African runner was not guilty of murder but delayed handing down a formal verdict, which may still hold him guilty of culpable homicide, likely until Friday.

The verdict will mark the beginning of the end of a globally publicized, six-month-long trial of the feted athlete, who in 2012 became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympics. Pistorius, 27, was charged with murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Feb. 14, 2013, after shooting her four times through a bathroom door at his home in Pretoria. He claimed to mistake Steenkamp for a possible intruder, the Associated Press reports, but chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel argued that Pistorius intended to injure her after the two had quarreled.

In the first day of her verdict reading, Judge Thokozile Masipa said prosecutors did not show beyond a reasonable doubt that Pistorius was guilty of premeditated murder. The judge admitted she had doubts about several witness accounts, including those who heard a scream or cry thought to be a woman’s. “None of the witnesses had ever heard the accused cry or scream, let alone when he was anxious,” Masipa said, alluding to a chance it could have been Pistorius’ voice.

But, without issuing a formal verdict, she said “culpable homicide is a competent verdict,” according to the AP. “I am of the view that the accused acted too hastily and with excessive force.”

Culpable homicide with a firearm normally carries a five-year prison sentence in South Africa, the AP adds, though the number of years can vary. And the final verdict may not mean the end of the saga, as Pistorius and the prosecution both retain the right to appeal the decision.

Pistorius, who frequently caused the court to adjourn throughout the trial in order to compose himself and who Masipa described as a “very poor witness” on Thursday, the AP reports, listened while sitting on a bench, at times quietly weeping. He had both legs amputated below the knee when he was 11 months old but began competing in Paralympic events using prosthetic limbs, earning himself the moniker “blade runner.” He proved successful enough to compete in able-bodied events including the 2012 London Olympics, and became an icon for athletes with disabilities.

Steenkamp was a burgeoning star herself who had appeared on the cover of FHM magazine and was slated to take part in an upcoming reality TV travel show.

[AP]

TIME South Africa

Pistorius Cleared of Murder Charges

The judge in the Oscar Pistorius trial said Thursday there is not enough evidence to prove the Olympic sprinter guilty of murdering girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — The judge in Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial appeared to be heading for a culpable homicide finding Thursday after ruling out both premeditated murder and murder verdicts in the shooting death of the double-amputee Olympic athlete’s girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp.

Judge Thokozile Masipa said prosecutors have not proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Pistorius, 27, is guilty of premeditated murder.

“Culpable homicide is a competent verdict,” the judge said, but did not deliver any formal verdicts in the shooting death of Pistorius’ 29-year-old girlfriend before calling for a lunch break in the proceedings.

Culpable homicide refers to a negligent killing. If Pistorius is acquitted of murder, he could still be sent to jail for years if it’s found he acted negligently in Steenkamp’s death. Pistorius has admitted firing the four shots that killed Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day last year.

Pistorius says he mistook his girlfriend, a model and budding reality TV star, for an intruder and killed her accidentally. The prosecution alleges the athlete intentionally killed her after a loud argument, which was heard by neighbors.

Masipa was explaining her reasoning behind the upcoming verdicts in the case against Pistorius, and said there were “just not enough facts” to support the finding of premeditated murder in Steenkamp’s fatal shooting.

As the judge spoke, Pistorius wept quietly, his shoulders shaking as he sat on a wooden bench.

Masipa earlier told Pistorius he could remain seated on the bench while she read her verdict out and until she asked him to stand for the judgment. She then proceeded to explain her assessment of the testimonies of some of the 37 witnesses in the trial, including Pistorius’ testimony in his own defense.

In that assessment, Masipa described Pistorius as a “very poor witness” who had lost his composure on the stand and was at times “evasive”, but she emphasized that did not mean he was guilty of murder.

Earlier, the 66-year-old judge cast doubt on witness accounts of hearing a woman’s screams, a key part of the prosecution’s case. Masipa said “none of the witnesses had ever heard the accused cry or scream, let alone when he was anxious,” apparently acknowledging the possibility of the defense’s argument that Pistorius had been the person screaming in a high-pitched voice after discovering he had fatally shot Steenkamp.

At one point, Masipa said: “I continue to explain why most witnesses got their facts wrong.”

Masipa also said she was disregarding text messages between Steenkamp and Pistorius that had been entered as evidence. Prosecutors had submitted text messages that showed tension between them while the defense submitted messages that indicated mutual affection. That evidence, the judge said, doesn’t prove anything.

“Normal relationships are dynamic and unpredictable most of the time, while human beings are fickle,” she said.

Pistorius faced 25 years to life in prison if convicted of premeditated murder for fatally shooting Steenkamp through a toilet cubicle door in his home in the pre-dawn hours of Feb. 14, 2013. He also faced years in jail if found guilty of murder without pre-planning, or of negligent killing. Pistorius could also be acquitted if Masipa believes he made a tragic error and acted reasonably.

Pistorius has said he thought there was an intruder in his home and pleaded not guilty to murder.

A key part of the prosecution’s case was its assertion that Steenkamp screamed during a late-night alleged fight with Pistorius before he killed her. But Masipa said some of those witnesses who testified to hearing a woman scream were “genuinely mistaken in what they heard, as the chronology will show.”

Masipa also cited testimony of an acoustics expert called by the defense, saying it cast “serious doubt” on whether witnesses who were hundreds of meters (yards) away in their homes — as some state witnesses were — could have differentiated between the screams of a man or a woman.

Earlier, Masipa began by outlining in detail the four charges against the Olympic runner: Murder, two counts of unlawfully firing a gun in a public place in unrelated incidents and one count of illegal possession of ammunition.

Before the session began, Pistorius hugged his brother Carl, who was seated in a wheelchair because of injuries suffered in a recent car crash.

The parents of Steenkamp were also in the packed gallery. Other members of Pistorius’ family, including his father Henke, sat behind him.

If Pistorius is convicted on any charge, the case will likely be postponed until a later sentencing hearing.

There were many journalists at the courthouse, where the sensational trial has unfolded over the last six months.

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