Inside the Pistorius courthouse

March 5, 2013

Pretoria, South Africa

By Siphiwe Sibeko

The Oscar Pistorius murder trial is one of the biggest stories South Africa has ever had. Covering it as a Reuters photographer was one of the most demanding and frustrating assignments I’ve ever had.

We were given strict orders by the court not to take photographs of anything or anyone while the magistrate was in the courtroom. This limited our access to Oscar and made it difficult to take good pictures.

On his first court appearance he stood in the dock and looked straight at the magistrate, avoiding looking at photographers and the people in the gallery. The magistrate read out that Oscar had been charged with murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Oscar bowed his head and breathed heavily, struggling to contain his emotions and wept. I think this was when it hit him that it was not a dream but reality. At the end of the court proceedings on that first day I only managed to photograph Oscar from the side as he was avoiding photographers. Then he turned as quickly as he could and left the court.

On the second day we were allowed in the court during proceedings, but again we weren’t allowed to take any photographs. I sat in front of the dock, an arm’s length from Oscar. Because of the poor light in the courtroom I positioned myself in such a way that should I get a chance to photograph him I would make use of the available light.

I positioned myself to have him in the center and also get the people in the background to illustrate the atmosphere of the courtroom. It did not take long: the magistrate called for a short break and as he left the court I stood up as quickly as I could and took a few frames of Oscar standing and facing the direction of the magistrate. I then gave my camera card to a TV colleague to pass it on to my manager Mike Hutchings who was outside the court waiting to file the images.

As the bail hearing continued, the former Paralympic hero would arrive in the dock and bow his head avoiding eye contact with photographers. He would stay in that position as if he were praying. There were times when he continually clenched his jaw, as if the sound of the cameras had a negative effect on him. Whenever the cameras clicked, it reminded me that we weren’t taking pictures this time because he had won a medal in a competition, but because he was now involved in a murder case.

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