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Pistorius Case Puts South African Courts In Spotlight


Now, to a case that has gripped not only South Africa but much of the world: Olympian and double-amputee Oscar Pistorius posted bail on Friday, at a cost of one million rand, or roughly 112,000 U.S. dollars. The trial will begin June 4th. Pistorius is facing charges of murdering his girlfriend nearly two weeks ago on Valentines Day.

David Smith has been covering the Pistorius case for the Guardian newspaper and he joins us via satellite from his home in Pretoria, South Africa. Thanks for joining us, David.

DAVID SMITH: Thank you.

GONYEA: So things have barely gotten underway and already we have this unusual twist. This week the prosecution's lead detective, Hilton Botha, was dropped from the case after he was charged with attempted murder for shooting at a minibus. What impact, if any, might that have on the case?

SMITH: I think in the short term it had a big impact. There are unflattering comparisons with Inspector Clouseau and his evidence somewhat fell apart in the cross-examination by the defense. Then it was revealed he, himself, is facing seven charges of attempted murder over an incident while policing when he shot at a minibus.

GONYEA: Pistorius himself seems to have made a surprising impression on the lead magistrate in this week's bail hearing. Describe the reaction in the courtroom.

SMITH: Pistorius was in the center of the courtroom and it was a very difficult scene to watch sometimes. He was sobbing openly, his whole body shaking, his hands trembling. Really plunged into this pit of despair. On the last day the magistrate said it was - sometimes when he stood before the flashing cameras it was as if Pistorius is some kind of rare species of animal.

GONYEA: We've seen so much reaction to this story from outside South Africa. What about inside the country? What about South Africans?

SMITH: Huge reaction too. You just randomly turn on a radio station here and it's being debated on phone-ins. Just anecdotally, I've heard it suggested that many, many women particularly are critical of Pistorius and can't understand why he did that and he should have denied bail, whereas men are less critical. On Twitter as well, there's been a huge reaction from South Africans. But it's really the case that everyone is talking about because, you know, this was a national hero and now he's in disgrace.

GONYEA: And what's next for Oscar Pistorius?

SMITH: Already there are moves to almost rebuild his brand. He's hired a public relations consultancy that specializes in what it calls reputation management. But clearly his life and career and completely changed and he's certainly not allowed to leave the country under his bail conditions. I think there's going to be many dark nights of the soul and preparation for his next appearance in court which is due on the 4th of June.

GONYEA: All right. Well, we'll be watching. David Smith, thanks for joining us.

SMITH: Thank you.

GONYEA: David Smith is a correspondent for the Guardian newspaper. He spoke to us from his home in Pretoria, South Africa.


GONYEA: You're listening to NPR News.

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