Oscar Pistorius led away to a cell by  a court guard after he was jailed for five years
Oscar Pistorius led away to a cell by a court guard after he was jailed for five years Reuters

"I'm glad that Oscar Pistorius is going to jail, but it would have been good if he went for a bit longer so that the punishment fitted the crime."

These are the words of Cath C, [https://www.facebook.com/CathC.SA], a tattoo model in Johannesburg whose words appear to capture the mood of the nation in the aftermath of Pistorius' sentencing.

Today the Olympic and Paralympic athlete was sentenced to five years in prison for culpable homicide after killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine's Day last year. He also received a concurrent three-year suspended sentence for recklessly handling a gun in Tasha's restaurant in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, the previous month.

While the general mood is one of relief that Pistorius will serve time for the act of taking a life, many people are unhappy with the length of his sentence, believing he got off too lightly.

Sharon Fisher, an office administrator at a big multinational corporation in Johannesburg, professed herself "really disappointed" by the decision and says she would personally have preferred him to receive the maximum 10-year term.

"This sentence cheapens life," she attests. "If Pistorius was a common bloke on the street, he wouldn't be getting the same treatment. The judicial system has let us down and a prominent athlete has got away with murder, literally."

Cath C agrees. "I don't think the South African justice system takes any form of abuse against women seriously," she says. "They could have used this opportunity to set an example of what happens if you do this kind of crime, but as a public figure he got off lightly."

Out early

To make matters worse though, few people think that Pistorius will even serve the full five years.

A number of legal spokespeople, including Department of Justice spokesperson Mthunzi Mhaga, have already intimated that, under Section 276 of the Criminal Procedure Act, once an inmate has served one sixth of their sentence, the prison head can decide whether to convert it to one of correctional supervision.

'I don't think the South African justice system takes any form of abuse against women seriously.'

In Pistorius' case, this means that he could be released and kept under house arrest after as little as 10 months.

But like many people, charity worker Zukisa Xegwana, believes that there is no way that he will ever serve the full term.

"There's not a chance he will serve the whole sentence" Zukisa said. "They've shown the world that you can kill in South Africa and get away with it and that if you're rich, you're above the law."

In fact, he believes that handing down the five-year sentence was "just to [appease] blind people who've been screaming about the whole situation because the whole country would have freaked out if he'd walked".

oscar pistorius trial
Barry Steenkamp, father of Reeva Steenkamp, is consoled by his wife June during the sentencing hearing of Olympic and Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius. Reuters

Hairdresser Simon Hutcheon is equally cynical, saying: "It's just how the justice system works. It's just a formality and Pistorius will be out with one illness or another whatever happens."

Optometrist Maseehah Rashid concurs. In the back of her mind is the case of well-connected former National Police Commissioner, Jackie Salebi.

He was given a 15-year sentence a few years back after being found guilty of taking bribes from a drug dealer, only to be set free, to much controversy, a couple of years later on medical grounds. He was photographed shopping in Pretoria several months later.

"It'll be the same for Pistorius," Rashid says. "He'll be out in a few months. He'll either play the mentally ill card with post-traumatic stress disorder, it'll be something physical or he can always bribe someone to get him out."

Preferential treatment

But one small consolation, she adds, is that at least the International Paralympics Committee has decided to ban him from running in competitions for the whole of his five-year jail term, which will include the 2016 Rio Paralympics, even if he is released early under house arrest.

Nondi Nomkhitha, a programme coordinator at educational NGO Vision AfriKa, also echoes the view of many when she says: "You do the crime, you pay – but how much [you pay] depends on who you are and what you're known for."

As a result, she believes that Pistorius will undoubtedly receive just as much preferential treatment when in prison as he did during the court case, not only because of his disabilities, but because "he is famous".

The latest suggestion is that the Blade Runner will see out his sentence in the hospital wing of the Kgosi Mampuru correctional centre in South West Pretoria, which appears to be one of the few facilities in the country geared to coping with people with his kind of condition.

But as Hutcheon points out: "It would be interesting to see what percentage of people in prison have disabilities and how they're treated. If it was just some random guy, the issue probably wouldn't even have been brought up."

Cath C agrees. "Pistorius tried to use his disabilities in his favour when he shot Reeva, but he fought equally hard to be treated as a normal person during the Olympics," she says.

"Prisons are known to be dangerous and violent, but no one seemed to care before - and it's a punishment. It's not supposed to be a hotel."

But as Lauren Cohen, a director at PR agency, Corporate Image, and a friend of the Steenkamp family, points out the concern for many is that "he'll get out after 10 months and then his life goes back to normal."

However, Lauren concludes that the problem for Reeva's family is that to "even get where they have today, it's taken more than 10 months - and Reeva is gone for life."