Reeva Steenkamp, my friend, shot by Oscar Pistorius

image copyrightcorbis

Reeva Steenkamp was shot dead by her boyfriend Oscar Pistorius on Valentine's Day 2013. Much attention has been focused on Mr Pistorius, the South African Olympic athlete who denies the charges. The BBC's Pumza Fihlani has been finding out more about the victim, a model, reality TV star and law graduate.

While Reeva Steenkamp projected the image of a sex kitten in the glossy men's magazines, those who knew her say the "real Reeva" was a deeply private person and had a "small-town girl" attitude about her.

"She was self-conscious. You would never think that but she was," says Kerry Smith, a close friend who met Reeva at university - before she was twice voted among the "100 sexiest women in the world" for FHM magazine.

Looking through photos of the two on her laptop and old Facebook messages - one in which Ms Steenkamp said she regarded her as "a sister" - Ms Smith says her friend was determined to use her law degree in years to come.

"She always said modelling would not last - you need to have something to come back to," she tells me as we sit in her living room in Port Elizabeth, known as the "friendly city", where both women grew up.

"She was more than just a pretty face, she had a beautiful heart and ambition," the 35-year-old legal assistant says.

image captionKerry Smith and Reeva Steenkamp had planned to open a law firm to help abused women

The 29-year-old died almost instantly after Mr Pistorius shot her through a toilet door in his Pretoria home. The double-amputee sprinter denies murder, saying he feared an intruder had broken in.

Ms Smith was one of a select few who attended the intimate funeral for Ms Steenkamp, who had been going out with the athlete for three months.

"There's no closure. We couldn't even view her body in the coffin," she says, sadly.

Ms Steenkamp was shot three times - once in the head, meaning her family could not hold an open-casket ceremony.

Given that she was killed by her boyfriend, it is poignant that one of her passions was helping victims of domestic abuse.

Reeva Steenkamp: 1983-2013

  • Reeva Rebecca Steenkamp was born on 19 August 1983, to Barry Steenkamp, a horse trainer, and his second wife June
  • Graduated in law at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth
  • Presenter at Fashion TV
  • Named among "100 sexiest women in the world" in 2011 and 2012 for FHM magazine, which featured her on the cover
  • Appeared in reality TV programme Tropika Island of Treasure, recorded in Jamaica and broadcast two days after her death
  • Shot dead by her boyfriend of three months, Oscar Pistorius in 14 February 2013

The two university friends had planned to start a law firm to help abused women after graduating.

It was an ambition they kept in mind despite Ms Steenkamp's modelling career - and she had applied to the bar in late 2011, aiming to become a legal advocate by the age of 30.


Before her involvement with Mr Pistorius, Ms Steenkamp had reportedly been in an abusive relationship with Wayne Agrella, accusations the jockey denies, while Ms Smith had been in an abusive marriage for 10 years.

"She wanted to save everyone, wanted to protect everyone," her friend recalls.

image copyrightAFP
image captionOscar Pistorius told the murder trial the couple had been planning a future together

Some believe this need to save and protect played a hand in her relationship with Mr Pistorius, who the world has learned was insecure about his disability in spite of his "superhuman" persona on the world athletics stage.

Ms Smith says it upsets her when people dismiss Ms Steenkamp's messages to Mr Pistorius, in which she said she was sometimes scared of him.

Referring to the relationship that supposedly fuelled her need to protect women from abusive men, Ms Smith says: "For Reeva I think it was mainly mental, I don't know that he was physically abusive but definitely emotionally abusive.

"When she was with Wayne she always felt she had to cover up. She would always be on these fad diets with him. She lost a lot of weight," she says.

"It wasn't a healthy relationship. When she moved to Johannesburg, we were grateful because it meant she would be free from him."

Mr Agrella, who was with the model for six years, denies that the relationship was anything but loving.

"That is the biggest lie ever. I even asked the family what this was about, they were just as shocked I was," says Mr Agrella, tersely.

Photographer Mark West on Reeva Steenkamp's first professional shoot, aged 15:

image copyrightMark West

Since this tragedy happened people have had this impression that Reeva was just a model or the pretty girl and she was so much more than that. There was this implication that she was riding on Oscar Pistorius' coat-tails and the fact of the matter is she was already somewhere, in her own right.

She had a successful career and many of us in the industry were watching her with great expectation - you could see that Reeva was going places. She was a really, really beautiful person - forget about the looks, I mean her heart and mind.

Even as a teenager she got it, she had a great work ethic. At competitions, shoots and anything that we did, she was one of the first to arrive and one of the last to leave.

The reason I've still got these photographs is because I had kept them aside to give her next time she was back in town. I've given them to her parents now.

Ms Smith says her own abusive marriage almost cost her friendship with Ms Steenkamp.

The pair did not see each other for several years - reconnecting some years later after Ms Smith had re-married.

"She later said it was because she couldn't handle seeing me being treated like that," says Ms Smith.

Top achievers

She and "Reeves", as she affectionately calls her friend of more than 10 years, met in 2002 when they both studied law at Port Elizabeth's Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

image copyrightMark West
image captionReeva Steenkamp dyed her hair blonde after she was turned down twice to be a cover girl for FHM

The pair were honoured among the top 10 achievers in the first year class - and had spent a month working together on an assignment.

This was when she got the first glimpse of Ms Steenkamp's drive, Ms Smith says.

Her friend always had striking looks, even before she became a TV star: "She had this classic beauty to her. What made her even more beautiful was how unaware she seemed of it."

At university, Ms Steenkamp spent most of her time behind a book, with loved ones and riding horses.

During her final year of university she broke her back after falling off a horse and was bedridden for two months.

Those close to her say this was what she needed to get out her shell.

"I think it made her realise that things can happen so quickly," says Ms Smith, who was one of the first people to visit her in hospital shortly after the accident.

"She's lying there, her head is strapped in and she is not allowed to move and she says: 'My hair is dirty, I've got grass in my hair and I've got sand in my hair. I can't handle it' - it was so her," laughs Ms Smith, saying her friend never let bad situations get her down.

Although she was worried about embarking on her modelling career relatively late, Ms Steenkamp was set on making a name for herself in the industry.

After being turned down for auditions for FHM cover girl two years in a row, she underwent a makeover - changing her hair colour from brunette to sunny blonde.

image copyrightAFP
image captionKerry Smith was one of the few friends invited to Reeva Steenkamp's funeral

"She was determined to get that job. Reeva was the kind of person who didn't take no for an answer. She worked hard and lost weight, re-invented herself and it paid off," says Ms Smith.

Her face lights up when she speaks of her friend, she is mostly in high spirits but there are moments when she pauses to compose herself.

She dips in and out of referring to Ms Steenkamp in the present, a sign perhaps that she has not quite dealt with the loss.

'Not quiet'

Ms Smith tells me how shocked she was when she heard that the model was dating Mr Pistorius, because Ms Steenkamp had recently told her how happy she was with another man, whom she had been seeing for three years.

"I thought that was the person she was going to marry, they even had a company together. I don't know what happened, next thing I know she is dating Oscar," she says.

image copyrightGetty Images
image captionWhen Ms Steenkamp died, the couple had been dating for three months and her parents had not met the athlete

"It happened so quickly, even her parents hadn't met him. Soon after that it had all ended."

Like many others, Ms Smith has questions about the moments leading up to the shooting.

"She was not a quiet person at all. She would have screamed, hearing him shout in the house, she would have let rip, she would have not kept her mouth shut at all," says Ms Smith.

But Mr Pistorius says Ms Steenkamp remained quiet, otherwise he would have known she was in the toilet.

She had spoken of some concerns about Mr Pistorius, like his speeding while driving.

"I think she genuinely loved him and that blinded her. I think she got to a point where she thought it was all fine," says Ms Smith.

Like Ms Steenkamp's parents, she says she just wants the truth and for justice to be served.

We have been sitting for more than an hour looking at the messages she and Ms Steenkamp exchanged - she says she reads them sometimes when missing her becomes too much.

"She was mad about my daughter. It breaks my heart to think she will never have that. She adored children," Ms Smith says, struggling to complete her sentences.

The pain is still all too raw.

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