Pretoria – The personality of Reeva Steenkamp has become much clearer after one of her cousins took the stand during Oscar Pistorius’ sentencing on Wednesdady to describe her relative’s short, but full life.
The first witness called by the state for the aggravation of sentence was Steenkamp’s eldest cousin, Kim Martin.
She is the first in a series of at least three witnesses set to be called by the state to try and convince Judge Thokozile Masipa to provide a harsh sentence for Pistorius, who was found guilty of culpable homicide for Steenkamp’s death last month.
Martin told the court how when Steenkamp was born, both her family and Reeva’s all lived closely in the suburb of Tableview. Martin was 12 years older than her cousin, and looked after her, forming a strong bond with her from a young age.
She said the families spent all of their time together, from the minute the kids were finished school until Sunday evenings.
Martin described Steenkamp as a strong, caring personality, even from a young age.
Martin became choked up as she told the court of how when Steenkamp’s dog, Jade, became paralysed, she would carry it around, effectively becoming its legs. As his daughter was described, Barry Steenkamp became teary eyed in the Pretoria High Court gallery.
Martin said the Steenkamp family always struggled financially, despite her uncle Barry’s hard working nature.
Steenkamp was always a studious pupil, until she eventually completed her studies in law after attaining a bursary to attend university.
Martin then spoke of Steenkamp’s previous romantic relationships. After high school, Steenkamp became involved in an emotionally abusive relationship. While the bond between Steenkamp and Martin wasn’t as strong after their childhood, she heard of how difficult the relationship was for Steenkamp.
In her young life, Steenkamp suffered a major horse-riding accident that broke her back, and Martin believed it taught her that her life could end at any moment and she needed to seize the day. She began pursuing a modeling career alongside her studies, becoming successful enough to support herself and her parents.
Martin said Steenkamp handed over her first modeling paycheck to her parents to help pay for her schooling.
She escaped her then home of Port Elizabeth to follow working opportunities in Gauteng.
Martin described her cousin as a happy person, especially when she seized her independence through her career.
Each year, however, she would visit her parents in PE for the entire month of December, except her last in 2012.
Despite having very little money, the Steenkamps made up for it in love, according to the emotional testimony.
Martin explained that Steenkamp helped her parents financially “from time to time”, paying for medical aid lapsed payments and other necessities when needed.
Steenkamp came to live with Martin on and off for six months in Cape Town, as her then-boyfriend, Warren Lahoud, was opening a new business near their home.
Martin’s children loved Steenkamp, she said, so the arrangement to do some work in the Mother City worked out for them all.
She told Martin that the cut-throat fashion industry in Joburg had affected her happiness, and she wanted to try and make it in Cape Town.
Martin said Steenkamp was unsure of her relationship with Lahoud, and the reason for the subsequent break-up was because the young model was at a different stage of her life than her beau.
The break-up was difficult for Steenkamp, and compounding her pain was the slow and steady failure of her parents’ business.
However, other business opportunities eventually emerged for June Steenkamp, who opened a small restaurant in Port Elizabeth. It was at around this time that Steenkamp would become intimately involved with the athlete who would later take her life.
A short few months later, Steenkamp would be shot by Pistorius at his Pretoria-East housing estate in February 2013.
Martin and her husband heard the news on the radio the morning of the crime. When describing how she felt when she heard the words “Oscar Pistorius has shot his girlfriend”, Martin broke down in tears in the stand, forcing a court adjournment.
At first she wasn’t one hundred percent sure if the “girlfriend” referred to necessarily meant Steenkamp, as the reports had not yet been confirmed.
She began phoning her cousin over and over, with no answer.
It was only after speaking with her own mother that Martin found out it was true.
Her husband rushed to pick up their daughter from boarding school to ensure she wouldn’t hear the awful news from someone else. Martin described it as the worst experience she’d ever had.
When she arrived at the Steenkamp’s home in Port Elizabeth, she was “in a dwaal” and could barely remember the next few days, with everyone around her rushing around trying to arrange the funeral.
However, she recalled that Reeva’s mother, June was either hysterical or heavily medicated, shrugging her shoulders constantly while Barry simply cried.
Martin said the parents adored their child, who “looked after them so well”.
“Reeva was everything to them,” she said, saying the family had been torn apart by the loss. She noted how Barry had suffered medically since his child’s death, experiencing strokes in recent months.
Earlier this week, she spoke with the still grieving parents. They told her “to be Reeva’s voice”.
Martin’s family too needed counselling and she was seeing a psychologist, with her daughter requiring special help to cope with her anxiety because she was so close to Steenkamp.
Martin told the court her eldest daughter’s final matric drama examination was on today, but she realised she owed it to Steenkamp to speak for her, and that her daughter understood. “It’s my way of being able to pay her back, after what she went through,” said Martin.
The weeping cousin then was asked to speak on Steenkamp’s charity work and female empowerment programs. She would give talks to young women, and was apparently planning more before she was killed, according to Martin.
Steenkamp did extensive work in Gauteng as a model, and was proud when she made the front cover of local men’s magazine, FHM, and when she became a celebrity contestant of local reality show, Tropika Island of Treasure.
Martin had met Pistorius for breakfast one morning while he was dating Steenkamp, after the model offered to fly her to Cape Town for the visit.
When she first met him, Martin was excited to meet such a famous person. She said Pistorius came across as “quite shy”. It was still the holiday season so the beach restaurant they visited was packed with people.
She said Pistorius was agitated with the poor service at the restaurant, but that he provided advice for her daughter. Overall, she thought he seemed like a nice person.
“I didn’t notice much affection between the two of them,” said Martin.
When she was alone with Steenkamp later, she asked if everything was alright in the relationship. The model responded with: “yes, but we need to talk”. That was the last time they were able to discuss the relationship.
The sentencing proceedings continue on Thursday, after prosecutor Gerrie Nel said the last aspect he would ask Martin to speak on would be an emotional one.