Oscar Pistorius: South Africa police under spotlight

South African Detective Hilton Botha in court during the Oscar Pistorius bail hearing, 21 February Detective Hilton Botha was forced to admit mistakes in the investigation

It's been the quiet, rather overlooked subtext to the drama and detail emerging from Courtroom C over the past few days: the shambolic state of South Africa's police force.

Exhibit A is, of course, Detective Hilton Botha, newly dismissed from his role as lead investigator in the Reeva Steenkamp murder case.

It was almost painful to watch his testimony to the court - selective, speculative, and clearly loyal to the prosecution - being picked apart by a highly paid defence lawyer until the detective was forced to concede that all his bold assumptions about Oscar Pistorius's guilt were, on the current evidence, unsustainable.

But between those uncomfortable admissions lay another story, of an underpaid policeman arriving for an important job without the necessary equipment - shoe covers - to avoid contaminating the murder scene, and without enough "connections" - his word - or colleagues, to ensure that the most basic evidence could be processed in time for the bail hearing.


He had no records yet of Reeva Steenkamp's mobile phone calls, no information about the post-mortem, no forensic or ballistic information beyond a few informal conversations with experts at the scene.

Other evidence about alleged "testosterone" proved wrong and the defence said its own investigators had found a bullet cartridge clumsily overlooked by the police.

Given that this is perhaps the most high-profile murder investigation that South Africa has seen in years, it makes you wonder what happens in other, more ordinary, cases.

It also makes you begin to understand why, for instance, the conviction rate for alleged rapists is pitifully low, and why so many police dockets are reported to "disappear" from the files, allowing suspects to walk free.

The suspiciously timed announcement that attempted murder charges have been reinstated against Detective Botha lends itself to speculation, both about the politicised power struggles within the state prosecutors' office, and about a national police force scrambling to save face under the glare of the international media.

But to me it also speaks to South Africa's notorious wealth gap, and to a culture where lavishly paid senior officials - be they politicians, police bureaucrats or defence attorneys - appear to live in a very different world from the underfunded, underequipped foot soldiers struggling to get a grip on this country's enduring crime problem.

Andrew Harding Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    The good thing about this case is we will get to see all the arguments, and be able to make our own judgments. The prosecution has been a complete farce, having produced nothing sustainable to contradict OPs account. There seem many here who already think he is guilty of a lot more than a tragic accident. Typical of "guilty when charged" Britain if you ask me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Good piece of very accurate writing.It made me sad quite honestly. The enduring right of passage of most post colonial African countries

    In the back of my mind I kept wondering if the confident prosecution in the begining of this case realy had any backing,I let myself believe it just might. [whisper] Not sure we even have a functioning forensic dep anymore anywhere in the country maybe CPT.

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    The Police did not grasp the situation from the start.
    They should have assigned their "best" Officer from the outset being aware of the fact that the "international" eyes of the world would be watching. To show how "good" the system is in SA.
    Agree with the OJ comparison, think this will be a demonstration of how wealth can "buy" you the justice you want against the "poor" state prosecuters.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    On the evidence so far the only thing that does look a certainty is that the OP trial will go the same way as the OJ trial !..ie a complete shambles ! but lurid entertainment for the masses.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    You have to wonder how much evidence has been redacted, and why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    How Botha was not suspended given his position, I do not know. It shows gross incompetence on behalf of the SA police and judiciary. A girl is shot dead and then cremated within 5 days of being murdered - evidence gone forever. Who was in a hurry and why? And the court room appears to be a shambles - mobile phones, tablets, texting, tweeting. It's a joke. OP will probably get off with a caution!

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    A friend spent a couple of years trying to open a bar/restaurant in SA. He gave up because he couldnt afford the "taxes" he had to pay to local police in order to get his licence application moved up the list. It was made clear that if he didnt pay it would have taken 5 years for his case to be considered!

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    Going by what has been reported so far, I can see OP being acquitted on the basis the prosecution is relying far too heavily on speculation such as "Why didn't Reeva call out?" Botha, perhaps, was biased in his assessment of what happened, and this bias has coloured the prosecution's case. There is still time for the prosecution to get their act together, however.

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    let this be an insight to all , as to the extend the south african institutions have collapsed.education , health justice .
    Vote ANC? or worse , do not vote in apathy.a vote withheld is a vote for the ANC .

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    A lesson here for us in the UK. If you appoint "comrades" to senior positions in the police instead of trained, experienced poice officers you will get this kind of farcical performance.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    No judicial system is perfect, but without basic competences in gathering and protecting evidence, this is becoming a farce and an affront to natural justice. Coupled with a serious credibility issue with regard to Botha's own antecedence, and there's a serious chance this poor woman's death will remain unexplained, and most importantly, her family will not see justice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 2.

    As someone who knows an insider in some of the ordinary cases.

    'Given that this is perhaps the most high-profile murder investigation that South Africa has seen in years, it makes you wonder what happens in other, more ordinary, cases'

    Nothing. Only if your murder makes it to the news, you might get a competent person investigating.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1.

    Absolutely correct - hopefully these issues will be addressed - somehow I doubt it though. It often takes a tragedy to highlight another tragedy - the dysfunctional 'justice' system in South Africa.


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