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, Africa correspondent Article written by Andrew Harding Andrew Harding Africa correspondent

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  • 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!

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    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 17.

    My main concern is that this may be a glimpse into the future of the British justice system.

    With less police funding, a Forensic Science Service now decimated and the government attempting to install senior management from outside with no experience of the British judicial system, this may be our future.

    All you'll need is a decent brief and a PR company and you could get away with murder.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    I wonder when the rest of the world will wake up to the FACT that as long as there is affirmative action and BEE this country will continue to approach equilibrium with Zim. In effect the “State” has perverted the public sense of justice and of personal responsibility in all areas, and bred and attracted an increasing number of moral and economic monsters and monstrosities.

  • 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.


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