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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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear