Reeva Steenkamp would have turned 30 this month. But instead of a day of celebration with loved ones, the South African model’s birthday will be marked by the latest court appearance of her lover-turned-killer Oscar Pistorius — hero of the 2012 Paralympics. So when will her family know the truth? Cosmo investigates
When 29-year-old law graduate Reeva Steenkamp went on her first date with the South African sports star Oscar Pistorius, she was instantly smitten. Handsome, charismatic and besotted with her from the moment they met, Oscar dazzled her with his high-octane celebrity and was soon describing her as ‘the love of his life.’ Introduced by a mutual friend in November 2012, the pair spent their first date at a red-carpet event within hours of meeting. They made a beautiful couple, eclipsing the other models and athletes attending the South African Sports Awards ceremony, and sending gossip columnists into a spin. Within weeks they appeared to be in a serious relationship, and Reeva finally thought she’d found The One. But by the end of Valentine’s Day, just a few months later, she’d be dead.
And while she tweeted about her handsome ‘boo’, and smiled for photographers at Pistorius’s side, those close to Reeva already had doubts about their relationship. A superstar in South Africa on a par with David Beckham, Oscar was newly returned from the London Olympics and Paralympics, an international icon known as the ‘Blade Runner’ (after the prosthetics on which he’d competed against able-bodied and disabled athletes), and an inspiration to millions worldwide. Reeva had moved from her sleepy hometown of Port Elizabeth to the bright lights of Johannesburg to carve out a modelling career and earn money to help support her parents; her plan was later to start her own legal practice. Within months of falling in love with Oscar, she’d become one of South Africa’s busiest models, fronting high-profile campaigns and filming a celebrity reality show. Their future together looked neon-bright.
MR NICE GUY?
But from very early on there were worrying signs about the volatile nature of her new boyfriend. The man Reeva called «my Joburg dad» had the heartbreaking task of identifying Reeva’s body. He has vividly described his memories of her and Oscar’s first date… and the intensity of the sports star’s attentions that followed.
That’s not right.» At one point Cecil even had to have words with Oscar: «Reeva told me she felt pushed into a corner a bit; caged in. I told her I would talk to him»
And while Reeva was all smiles whenever she and Pistorius were photographed together, there were suggestions that all wasn’t well, claim those close to her, including Reeva’s cousin Kim Martin, who met up with the couple shortly after Christmas.’ She smiled and said hesitantly,’Yes’ But I could see something in her response. She told me, ‘We’ll talk about it another time.’ But we never did.»
While Reeva was described by her publicist Sarit Tomlinson as, «The sweetest, kindest, just angelic soul,» she was also a strong character. She planned to set up a legal practice in her hometown and was vocal on the subject of violence against women in South Africa, where three women a day are killed by abusive partners. Reeva herselfhad been in an emotionally abusive relationship before leaving Port Elizabeth, and told friends modelling had helped restore her sense of self-worth. She was due to give a speech to schoolchildren on that theme the day after she died.»
Reeva’s choice of boyfriend surprised many, including friend Pepi Dimevski, tattoo artist of choice to South Africa’s celebrities (Reeva had ‘lioness’ inked on her ankle and ‘Only God will judge me’ inscribed in Italian on her back).»I thought,’What the hell is she doing with him?’ «
In fact, many of Reeva’s exciting to be around and lots of fun, but he definitely has another side to him. He could really lose it, and you never wanted to be on the receiving end of his temper.»
Perhaps tellingly, on the one and only occasion that her mother, June, spoke to him, it was to issue a threat. Reeva had phoned her from the athlete’s car in floods of tears: he was driving fast and she was terrified. «I told her to hand the phone to Oscar,» recalls June.»
June’s words had the desired effect and Pistorius slowed down. The stern voice of a concerned mother was something Oscar hadn’t heard in many years. He’d lost his own mother, Sheila, whom he described as «the centre of my world», at 15 when she was fatally treated with drugs for a wrongly diagnosed illness. He wrote in his autobiography that her death had left him and his brother Carl «like rudderless boats».
His attachment to his mother ran deep. Born without fibula bones, Pistorius had both his legs amputated below the knee just before his first birthday. Sheila was determined her son’s disability would not hold him back, or define him. The dates of her birth and death are tattooed in Roman numerals on his forearm. Estranged from his father following his parents’ divorce when he was seven, Oscar channelled his profound grief and anger into his training, and this perhaps explains his phenomenal drive — but also his unresolved temper issues.
On the track, his determination to compete against able-bodied as well as disabled athletes won him worldwide admiration. But with his indomitable spirit and determination came an attraction to danger. Away from the track, the self-confessed adrenalin junkie developed a passion for women, fast cars, boats, bikes and guns. He even had two pet white tigers. He also spent three days in a coma in 2009 after a speed-boat crash that let him with a broken jaw, several broken ribs and 180 stitches in his face.
When he was unable to sleep, Pistorius would often head to a local shooting range with his arsenal of weapons. On his way there on one occasion, shortly before the London Olympics, he tweeted, Amped to the max! Yeaaah boil!’ It’s hard to reconcile this high-octane machismo with his girlfriend, who was described by Tomlinson as, «A very inspiring individual, very passionate about speaking about women and empowerment.»
As her relationship with Oscar progressed, Reeva’s friends privately worried about his appetite for dangerous hobbies. Weeks before Reeva’s fatal shooting, one of his guns was accidentally fired inside a busy restaurant, narrowly missing a friend’s leg. It was the latest in a string of dangerous displays that — if they had involved anyone else but South Africa’s pin-up athlete — might have led to an arrest, punishment and certainly the revoking of a firearms licence.
A DARK SIDE
«Oscar was out of control but somehow he was untouchable,» Reeva’s anonymous friend from the modelling world told Cosmo. «He was a major star and nobody seemed willing to even try to rein him in. I’d seen him showing his guns off at parties and picking arguments, but people were either scared of him or in awe.»
He’d been dating previous girlfriend Samantha Taylor, a part-time model, before heading to the London Games, and there have been suggestions that believing he’d been betrayed by her fuelled feelings of possessiveness. By the time he returned, she was going out with another man. Enraged by jealousy, Pistorius allegedly threatened to break the legs of his love rival, millionaire Quinton van der Burgh.
On the night of Reeva’s death, Oscar claimed that he thought there was a burglar in his bathroom, which is why he fired shots through the door. On the floor of the bathroom where Reeva met her death were no fewer than four mobile phones, fuelling speculation that she — and perhaps he too — had received Valentine’s Day messages from other admirers, prompting a row.
Two weeks after Reeva’s death, her ashes were scattered in the waters of Nelson Mandela Bay by her devastated parents. As it turned out she didn’t survive Valentine’s Day, and Pistorius is now out on bail, awaiting trial for killing the woman who loved him.
In his defence statement* he said: «By about 22h00 on 13th February 2013 we were in our bedroom. I felt a sense of terror rush over me.»
«I often thought that fast cars or guns would be the death of Oscar. As it turned out, it was Reeva who died. But if he goes to jail, I reckon he’ll wish that he was dead too.»