Andrew Harding, Africa correspondent

Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

This is the home of my reports, updates and analysis from across the world’s liveliest continent

Andrew added analysis to:

Oscar Pistorius trial sees Reeva Steenkamp Valentine's card

15 April 2014

It has been exhausting just to watch Oscar Pistorius - doubled up on the ropes for hour after hour, heavy arms trying to fend off another clinical combination of lethal jabs and low blows from prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

As the athlete finally slinks wearily back across the court from the witness stand to the dock, he must know that the last five days have done him few favours in this trial.

He has been forgetful, evasive, agitated, uncertain, argumentative, and defiantly - some would say deliberately - ambiguous about some of the key issues at the heart of this murder trial. However well his forensic experts proceed to shore up his testimony in the coming days, his credibility has been damaged.

I have been fending off emails from members of the public anxious to unearth some "smoking gun" detail that can resolve this case once and for all.

But the reality, from my vantage point in the public gallery here, is that there is no "smoking gun" - besides the obviously literal one.

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Oscar Pistorius damaged but not destroyed

15 April 2014
Oscar Pistorius (left) arrives ahead of his trial at North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, 15 April 2014
The past five days of the trial have done Oscar Pistorius few favours

It has been exhausting just to watch Oscar Pistorius - doubled up on the ropes for hour after hour, heavy arms trying to fend off another clinical combination of lethal jabs and low blows from prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

As the athlete finally slinks wearily back across the court from the witness stand to the dock, he must know that the last five days have done him few favours in this trial.

He has been forgetful, evasive, agitated, uncertain, argumentative, and defiantly - some would say deliberately - ambiguous about some of the key issues at the heart of this murder trial. However well his forensic experts proceed to shore up his testimony in the coming days, his credibility has been damaged.

'Buckets of uncertainty'

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel gestures as he cross-examines Oscar Pistorius during his trial at North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, 15 April 2014
Prosecutor Gerrie Nel has depicted Oscar Pistorius as a man with a disdainful attitude to authority

Inevitably, many people watching the proceedings are resolutely preoccupied with the facts - and the extent to which Mr Nel has cast doubt - or worse - on Mr Pistorius' explanation of his behaviour the night he killed Reeva Steenkamp.

It is understandable. Facts matter. I have been fending off emails from members of the public anxious to unearth some "smoking gun" detail that can resolve this case once and for all.

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Andrew added analysis to:

Oscar Pistorius 'heartbroken' at seeing Steenkamp body

15 April 2014

It has been exhausting just to watch Oscar Pistorius - doubled up on the ropes for hour after hour, heavy arms trying to fend off another clinical combination of lethal jabs and low blows from prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

As the athlete finally slinks wearily back across the court from the witness stand to the dock, he must know that the last five days have done him few favours in this trial.

He has been forgetful, evasive, agitated, uncertain, argumentative, and defiantly - some would say deliberately - ambiguous about some of the key issues at the heart of this murder trial. However well his forensic experts proceed to shore up his testimony in the coming days, his credibility has been damaged.

I have been fending off emails from members of the public anxious to unearth some "smoking gun" detail that can resolve this case once and for all.

But the reality, from my vantage point in the public gallery here, is that there is no "smoking gun" - besides the obviously literal one.

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Oscar Pistorius 'close to disaster'

11 April 2014
South African track star Oscar Pistorius arrives for his trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria on 11 April
Chastened by two days of tough questions, Mr Pistorius arrives for a third day at the hands of Gerrie Nel

I'm tapping this out in Courtroom D, on a hard bench, at the end of an extraordinary, roller-coaster week of drama, tears and confrontation.

The Pistorius family are sitting on the row just in front of me, and it is hard not to follow events through their own, visceral reactions, as they flinch and cry.

A few yards to my right, I can see Reeva Steenkamp's mother, June, staring - almost trance-like, hour after hour - at the man who killed her daughter.

The memory of the athlete's remorseful tears earlier this week has been quickly supplanted, at least in my mind, by the fury of prosecutor Gerrie Nel's cross-examination - the initial shock of his showing the graphic photograph of the victim's head wound, and now the compelling second-by-second analysis of the night itself.

So who has the upper hand?

State prosecutor Gerrie Nel during cross questioning of Oscar Pistorius on 10 April
Gerri Nel has encouraged Oscar Pistorius to engage in legal arguments - in which the athlete has struggled
Relatives of South African Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, in court
The Pistorius family, in court, have also felt the blows landed by the State against their relative

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Pistorius trial: Tough start about to get tougher

7 April 2014
Oscar Pistorius, 7 April
Oscar Pistorius is sure to face a fierce grilling from prosecutor Gerrie Nel

Oscar Pistorius may have grabbed the headlines today, but as far as the trial is concerned, I suspect some of the biggest developments may have come earlier on Monday morning before the athlete even began giving evidence.

Two things stuck out for me.

Firstly, we heard the defence team's pathologist Jan Botha arguing that although he agreed with the state's experts regarding the probable order of injuries sustained by Reeva Steenkamp, he felt it was quite likely that she would not have had a chance to scream if the bullets had been fired in reasonably quick succession.

Several experts had expected the defence to argue that the first bullet had hit her in the head, making any screams impossible.

Regardless of that, Prof Botha's interpretation will, I suspect, be useful for the defence as they seek to shore up the athlete's version of events.

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Cape Town ready for Dewani honeymoon murder trial

6 April 2014
Shrien and Anni Dewani pictured at their wedding in October 2010
Shrien and Anni Dewani married in Mumbai in India in October 2010, two weeks before her death

No-one is celebrating in Cape Town, but there is an eager sense of both vindication and anticipation here, as South African officials await the long-delayed arrival of British murder suspect Shrien Dewani on Tuesday morning.

"All systems are go," said Mthunzi Mhaga, a spokesman for the department of justice.

"Indications from law enforcement and prosecution are that they have a formidable case against him. He is not on a honeymoon. He is not on holiday. He is here to stand trial and we want to see that happen within a reasonable period of time.

"We have a clean track record - a very impressive one," Mr Mhaga said, evidently still smarting from the criticism of "naysayers who have been peddling lies" about the capacity and independence of South Africa's police and courts.

"They are eating humble pie now," he said.

Psychiatric hospital

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What Zuma should say about Nkandla

2 April 2014
President Jacob Zuma
Jacob Zuma is campaigning for a second term as South Africa's president

President Jacob Zuma is required to account to parliament on Wednesday regarding South Africa's Nkandla scandal - the expensive state-funded upgrades to his private home. Some of his critics would like to see him impeached, or charged. Mr Zuma insists he did nothing wrong and his party, the ANC, has largely sought to play down the affair.

So what should, or might, Mr Zuma say to parliament - within reason? I'm no spin-doctor, or speech-writer, but I thought I'd have a go:

Comrades,

Presidents come and go.

I learned that a long time ago, in the prison yard on Robben Island. Loyalty to the party comes first - collective discipline, collective responsibility. That is the ANC way, and even Nelson Mandela could not challenge it.

Liberation and money

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Pistorius trial: After the evidence, focus on character

26 March 2014
Pistorius in court
The trial will increasingly scrutinise Pistorius' actions and motives on the fateful night

So what have we learned after almost a month of prosecution evidence in courtroom D?

There's been plenty of sound and fury. And yes, a cricket bat, a door, some retching, and plenty of text messages.

But I'm not convinced it all signifies as much as we might think. I'll explain more in a minute, but first of all, here's my take on the prosecution's palpable hits, and woeful misses so far.

The hits:

I could go on. The text messages from Reeva complaining about his jealous tantrums were very damaging too - worrying evidence of a potentially abusive relationship - but Roux did a reasonable job of putting them in the broader context of an evolving, and clearly predominantly loving partnership.

A picture taken on January 26, 2013 shows Olympian sprinter Oscar Pistorius posing next to his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg
The court has heard of text messages that shed light on Oscar Pistorius' relationship with Reeva Steenkamp

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Pistorius trial: Nation of competing realities

15 March 2014
Oscar Pistorius reacts during his murder trial at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, on March 13, 2014
The courtroom drama has given a revealing view of South African society

This can be a bewildering country.

Take one exit on the drive north from Johannesburg to Pretoria and you'd think you were in downtown Geneva. Take the next and it's more like Kinshasa.

Different worlds - in a nation of notorious inequality.

And as we've seen this week, those sharp contrasts - in wealth, infrastructure and attitudes - can find their way into almost any corner of South Africa; even the austere surroundings of Judge Thokozile Masipa's Courtroom D in Pretoria's High Court.

As with so many things in post-apartheid South Africa, it's easy and tempting to view the nation's disparities through a racial lens.

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About Andrew

Andrew has been Africa correspondent since 2009, covering the continent's highs and lows - from the World Cup, Africa's economic boom, and the literary treasures of Timbuktu, to the pirates of Somalia, the conflict in Ivory Coast, and the struggles of Zimbabwe.

He has spent twenty years as a foreign correspondent, based in the former Soviet Union, Africa, and Asia, and reported on the 1993 parliamentary rebellion in Moscow, two Chechen wars, the Asian tsunami in 2004, and conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma, Congo, Sudan, Liberia and beyond.

Andrew was born in the UK, grew up in Belgium and at boarding school. He is married with three children.

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