Emotion flows over in Pistorius tribunal
As Oscar Pistorius struggled to control his shaking voice in the witness stand Monday, weeks of tension took its toll in the tribunal.
Sitting in the first row of the public gallery, his sister Aimee, wearing a black dress and her brown hair in loose waves, wiped away tears streaming down her face with a white tissue, as her older brother said sorry for the pain he has caused.
When the 27-year-old athlete, wearing a black suit and tie, began describing the traumatic loss of his mother Sheila, his aunt Lois started crying too.
Except for the clatter made by reporters typing on their keyboards and sniffles from Aimee, the courtroom was silent.
Metres away, Reeva’s mother June Steenkamp, also wearing black, sat stone-faced as Pistorius described living with his disability.
For weeks, June has attended the murder trial, hearing witnesses give graphic details of her 29-year-old daughter’s death on Valentine’s Day 2013.
But today is the first time she will hear Pistorius give his account of what happened that fateful night.
Steenkamp is flanked by members of the ANC Women’s League, a faction of the ruling party protesting violence against women.
The League members, identifiable by their bright green jackets, dotted the Steenkamp bench, a conspicuous presence in a country that suffers from abnormally high rates of domestic violence.
Judge Thokozile Masipa listened to Pistorius, occasionally taking notes.
Her judicial assistants strained to hear the runner, who spoke in a low, muffled voice.
Close friends of Steenkamp, described as her “Johannesburg family,” sat shoulder-to-shoulder with the Pistorius family, the courtroom so full there was no room to allow space between the two sides.
When court adjourned for lunch, Pistorius’s brother Carl, who looks strikingly similar to the star sprinter, and sister Aimee shared a deep hug.
Their father, Henke, was not present in the courtroom.
Meanwhile, state experts including the ballistic expert Chris Mangena and forensic pathologist Gert Saaymans, conferred by the toilet door Pistorius shot Steenkamp through and which is mounted in the courtroom.
Earlier in the morning, when pathologist Jan Botha was testifying on Steenkamp’s cause of death, Pistorius bent over in the dock, his hands clasped over his neck, retching into a bright green bucket.
The athlete’s shoulders were shaking as Botha gave his testimony, describing how Pistorius shot his girlfriend.
When court adjourned for a break, Pistorius sat hunched in the dock.
His brother Carl, who was recently acquitted of culpable homicide, took a seat on his left side, while Aimee sat on the right.
The three siblings huddled together in a show of solidarity.