In the most shocking moment of the trial, the state prosecutor confronted Oscar Pistorius with a close-up photo of Reeva Steenkamp, her hair matted dark with blood. The athlete recoiled in horror and his defence lawyer jumped to his feet to object: “That is uncalled for.”
There was no complaint, however, from the woman sitting on the front row of the public gallery. June Steenkamp, mother of the late model and law graduate, had been warned in advance that the image would be used. Her lawyer advised her when to drop her gaze so she would not see it.
On Friday, Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide for shooting Reeva Steenkamp, 29, through a toilet door on Valentine’s Day last year. He maintained that he mistook her for a burglar.
When the court adjourned, June Steenkamp could be seen shaking her head and hugging and comforting another family member. The victim’s close friend, Gina Myers, broke down and wept.
Asked if the family were disappointed by the outcome, lawyer Dup de Bruyn said: “There’s no comment at the moment.”
He said the Steenkamps would give interviews to media organisations after Friday’s hearing according to their present contractual arrangements.
June Steenkamp, 67, attended almost every day of the trial, while her husband Barry, 71, who recently suffered a stroke, followed it on TV and joined her for closing arguments last month.
The rest of the world has been watching and debating the case, but for the Steenkamps it has meant constantly reliving the night of their daughter’s death.
“It doesn’t go away,” said the victim’s uncle, Mike Steenkamp. “The experience is a daily occurrence. It’s not something you sweep under the carpet and it’s gone. It’s up in your face all the time. As it goes on, flashes of Reeva keep coming back.”
Speaking before the trial, Mike Steenkamp said he would travel from Cape Town to be in court to support his brother for the verdict.
“He doesn’t know how he will handle any situation. He asked me to come up. We’ll just have to see the results. We’re leaving it in the Lord’s hands.”
Since the killing, the Steenkamps have withdrawn to running a pub in a hamlet outside Port Elizabeth, but have been bombarded by media attention and interview requests.
Recently, June Steenkamp told Hello! magazine that she still felt the presence of her daughter and talked to her all the time. “She’ll only rest in peace when this is over. I trust that God will prevail and justice will be done. All we want is the truth.” She said she had forgiven Pistorius.
The community in Port Elizabeth, in Eastern Cape province has been watching the trial closely. Pete Pelser, a businessman, said: “I would guess about 40 per cent of the people watched it on a daily basis. They were talking about it all the time.”
Some in Port Elizabeth have turned against the couple for demanding fees for interviews, but friend and resident Kerry Smith said: “There’s a lot of sympathy for Mr and Mrs Steenkamp. It’s their only child together. Reeva and her mum were totally inseparable and she idolised her dad.”
Smith knew Reeva Steenkamp at university when they were law students and, after drifting apart, they renewed their friendship via Facebook.
The part-time tutor, now 37, has found the trial difficult viewing at times. “It’s been very emotional, especially when the photo was shown of her head shot. I thought her hair’s black again, but then your brain processes it and you realise it’s blood.”
When a teenager, the victim participated in the Miss Port Elizabeth pageant and talent contests run by the local Herald newspaper. Barbara Robertson, former fashion and beauty editor who helped organise the events, said she was unmoved by Pistorius’ breakdowns in court.
“Every time I heard him vomit and every I time I heard him cry, I actually wanted to vomit myself,” she said. “It was horrendous. I thought: be a man. I know others felt the same. People here are very harsh on Oscar Pistorius. Nobody gives him the benefit of the doubt.”