Members of the ANC Women’s League protest outside the court in Pretoria. Photo: Getty
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Oscar Pistorius is not guilty of murdering Reeva Steenkamp, the woman he killed

The South African athlete has been found guilty of culpable homicide, not murder, following the death of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. In a world where men kill women and not the other way around, that means justice must bend to the male version of events.

Oscar Pistorius is not guilty of murder. He shot Reeva Steenkamp four times, through a locked bathroom door, with bullets designed to expand and tear and demolish human flesh; but the court in Pretoria found that his crime was culpable homicide (equivalent to manslaughter in English and Welsh law), not murder.

Reeva Steenkamp said she was afraid. “I’m scared of you sometimes and how u snap at me and of how you will react to me,” she wrote to Pistorius in the WhatsApp messages that were presented as evidence during the trial – messages which Judge Thokozile Masipa declared “prove nothing”. “Normal relationships are dynamic and unpredictable sometimes,” said Masipa. And Steenkamp did not predict the actual act of violence that killed her. Nevertheless, her fears were realised. The man she was scared of caused her death. Steenkamp was, ultimately, right to be afraid.

Oscar Pistorius said he was afraid too. His defence was that he believed there was an intruder in his bathroom, and that he shot in self-defence and in defence of Steenkamp (who he knew was in his home at the time). Masipa accepted this account, although – unlike Steenkamp’s fear – it was unsubstantiated. There was no burglar behind that door. There was no threat to Pistorius anywhere in his home, just a woman, a woman he claims he loved, a woman for whom the only grace we can hope is that she was unconscious from her injuries before she knew her boyfriend was delivering her death. His fears count, hers are dismissed.

Of course, Pistorius was on trial, not Steenkamp, so the benefit of reasonable doubt must go in his favour; but in a world where men kill women and not the other way around, that means justice must bend to the male version. South Africa is a frightening place to be female. According to the South African Medical Research Council, in 2009, one woman was killed by a partner every eight hours. Rape Crisis South Africa (RCSA) estimates that more than 500,000 sexual offences are committed each year (although far fewer are ever reported). Every year, 60,000 South African women and children are victims of domestic violence, according to a WHO report.

Perhaps it’s this context that influenced Masipa when she characterised Steenkamp’s fear as part of a “normal relationship”. It would be commonplace, regular, quotidian for women to fear the people most likely to harm them. As Catherine MacKinnon writes: “Acts of violence against women are regarded not as exceptional but inevitable, even banal, in an unexceptional context, hence beyond no pale.” There is another sense of normal, though, when we use it to mean healthy, sane, without pathology. Is it normal in this sense for a woman to cringe at a partner’s “tantrums”? To feel “picked on” and “snapped at”, as Steenkamp said she did in those messages?

Rape Crisis South Africa argues that South African men were traumatised on a national scale by apartheid, which led to “the militarisation of South African male identities”. Black men were brutalised by their oppression, white men were brutalised by their conscription as enforcers of that brutality, and regardless of race, “the home and the intimate lives of men became a battleground for reclaiming power in another sphere”. For Pistorius to kill Steenkamp in the process of confronting an imaginary man is to violently dramatise what happens to women every day, caught in the crossfire of male aggression.

The death of women at the hands of men is not unpredictable (it happens more than twice a week in the UK), yet whenever we are forced to notice it, we are compelled to find it shocking. The alternative to that unconvincing surprise is to admit the unbearable truth: that male violence against women is simply tolerated, not just in South Africa but globallly. If violence is routine, then we cannot be said to live in peacetime; if we do not live in peacetime, then we must live in a war. But because the war of men against women has never been declared, the rules intended to humanise conflicts have never been applied to gender relations.

“If women in everyday life are not formally considered combatants, with combatants’ rights, neither do they effectively receive the benefits the law of war confers on civilians during combat,” writes MacKinnon, adding that: “most men who commit violence against women are legally considered neither soldiers nor criminals, yet often receive the effective impunity that is the benefit of both.” And Oscar Pistorius is not guilty of murdering the woman he killed.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.

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The Brexit Beartraps, #2: Could dropping out of the open skies agreement cancel your holiday?

Flying to Europe is about to get a lot more difficult.

So what is it this time, eh? Brexit is going to wipe out every banana planet on the entire planet? Brexit will get the Last Night of the Proms cancelled? Brexit will bring about World War Three?

To be honest, I think we’re pretty well covered already on that last score, but no, this week it’s nothing so terrifying. It’s just that Brexit might get your holiday cancelled.

What are you blithering about now?

Well, only if you want to holiday in Europe, I suppose. If you’re going to Blackpool you’ll be fine. Or Pakistan, according to some people...

You’re making this up.

I’m honestly not, though we can’t entirely rule out the possibility somebody is. Last month Michael O’Leary, the Ryanair boss who attracts headlines the way certain other things attract flies, warned that, “There is a real prospect... that there are going to be no flights between the UK and Europe for a period of weeks, months beyond March 2019... We will be cancelling people’s holidays for summer of 2019.”

He’s just trying to block Brexit, the bloody saboteur.

Well, yes, he’s been quite explicit about that, and says we should just ignore the referendum result. Honestly, he’s so Remainiac he makes me look like Dan Hannan.

But he’s not wrong that there are issues: please fasten your seatbelt, and brace yourself for some turbulence.

Not so long ago, aviation was a very national sort of a business: many of the big airports were owned by nation states, and the airline industry was dominated by the state-backed national flag carriers (British Airways, Air France and so on). Since governments set airline regulations too, that meant those airlines were given all sorts of competitive advantages in their own country, and pretty much everyone faced barriers to entry in others. 

The EU changed all that. Since 1994, the European Single Aviation Market (ESAM) has allowed free movement of people and cargo; established common rules over safety, security, the environment and so on; and ensured fair competition between European airlines. It also means that an AOC – an Air Operator Certificate, the bit of paper an airline needs to fly – from any European country would be enough to operate in all of them. 

Do we really need all these acronyms?

No, alas, we need more of them. There’s also ECAA, the European Common Aviation Area – that’s the area ESAM covers; basically, ESAM is the aviation bit of the single market, and ECAA the aviation bit of the European Economic Area, or EEA. Then there’s ESAA, the European Aviation Safety Agency, which regulates, well, you can probably guess what it regulates to be honest.

All this may sound a bit dry-

It is.

-it is a bit dry, yes. But it’s also the thing that made it much easier to travel around Europe. It made the European aviation industry much more competitive, which is where the whole cheap flights thing came from.

In a speech last December, Andrew Haines, the boss of Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority said that, since 2000, the number of destinations served from UK airports has doubled; since 1993, fares have dropped by a third. Which is brilliant.

Brexit, though, means we’re probably going to have to pull out of these arrangements.

Stop talking Britain down.

Don’t tell me, tell Brexit secretary David Davis. To monitor and enforce all these international agreements, you need an international court system. That’s the European Court of Justice, which ministers have repeatedly made clear that we’re leaving.

So: last March, when Davis was asked by a select committee whether the open skies system would persist, he replied: “One would presume that would not apply to us” – although he promised he’d fight for a successor, which is very reassuring. 

We can always holiday elsewhere. 

Perhaps you can – O’Leary also claimed (I’m still not making this up) that a senior Brexit minister had told him that lost European airline traffic could be made up for through a bilateral agreement with Pakistan. Which seems a bit optimistic to me, but what do I know.

Intercontinental flights are still likely to be more difficult, though. Since 2007, flights between Europe and the US have operated under a separate open skies agreement, and leaving the EU means we’re we’re about to fall out of that, too.  

Surely we’ll just revert to whatever rules there were before.

Apparently not. Airlines for America – a trade body for... well, you can probably guess that, too – has pointed out that, if we do, there are no historic rules to fall back on: there’s no aviation equivalent of the WTO.

The claim that flights are going to just stop is definitely a worst case scenario: in practice, we can probably negotiate a bunch of new agreements. But we’re already negotiating a lot of other things, and we’re on a deadline, so we’re tight for time.

In fact, we’re really tight for time. Airlines for America has also argued that – because so many tickets are sold a year or more in advance – airlines really need a new deal in place by March 2018, if they’re to have faith they can keep flying. So it’s asking for aviation to be prioritised in negotiations.

The only problem is, we can’t negotiate anything else until the EU decides we’ve made enough progress on the divorce bill and the rights of EU nationals. And the clock’s ticking.

This is just remoaning. Brexit will set us free.

A little bit, maybe. CAA’s Haines has also said he believes “talk of significant retrenchment is very much over-stated, and Brexit offers potential opportunities in other areas”. Falling out of Europe means falling out of European ownership rules, so itcould bring foreign capital into the UK aviation industry (assuming anyone still wants to invest, of course). It would also mean more flexibility on “slot rules”, by which airports have to hand out landing times, and which are I gather a source of some contention at the moment.

But Haines also pointed out that the UK has been one of the most influential contributors to European aviation regulations: leaving the European system will mean we lose that influence. And let’s not forget that it was European law that gave passengers the right to redress when things go wrong: if you’ve ever had a refund after long delays, you’ve got the EU to thank.

So: the planes may not stop flying. But the UK will have less influence over the future of aviation; passengers might have fewer consumer rights; and while it’s not clear that Brexit will mean vastly fewer flights, it’s hard to see how it will mean more, so between that and the slide in sterling, prices are likely to rise, too.

It’s not that Brexit is inevitably going to mean disaster. It’s just that it’ll take a lot of effort for very little obvious reward. Which is becoming something of a theme.

Still, we’ll be free of those bureaucrats at the ECJ, won’t be?

This’ll be a great comfort when we’re all holidaying in Grimsby.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Brexit. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.