PRETORIA, South Africa – After serving nearly 9 long years behind bars for the 2013 Valentine’s Day killing of his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp, Olympic sprinter Oscar Pistorius finally regained his freedom on Friday.
The once-glorified Paralympic gold medalist and global icon quietly exited the Atteridgeville Correctional Center in Pretoria, before being processed at a nearby parole office and released to his loving family, according to Singabakho Nxumalo, a spokesperson for the Department of Corrections.
“I can confirm that he was released this morning,” Nxumalo somberly told reporters, declining to provide further details about Pistorius’ release, which he described as an “operation” aimed at avoiding media fanfare out of respect for the families involved.
Now 37, Pistorius was convicted of murder for fatally shooting Steenkamp four times through a locked bathroom door in his Pretoria home in the early hours of February 14, 2013. Claiming he tragically mistook her for an intruder in a panicked moment, the double-amputee who rose to fame competing on prosthetic blades against able-bodied runners insisted he acted in self-defense.
But prosecutors argued that he intentionally killed Steenkamp in a fit of rage following an emotional argument between the devoted couple. In one of South Africa’s most high-profile trials, he was ultimately sentenced to 13 years and 5 months in prison.
Having served over half his sentence, Pistorius became eligible for parole last year. Despite opposition from Steenkamp’s grieving family, he was approved for early release in November 2022 by a board who felt he was genuinely remorseful.
Under strict conditions that will remain in effect until his sentence concludes in December 2029, Pistorius is prohibited from speaking to the media and required to meet regularly with corrections officials, who can send him back to prison for any parole violations.
He is also barred from leaving home without permission, consuming alcohol, or contacting Reeva’s family, as difficult as that may be after shared close bonds. And he must perform community service while attending mandated programs on anger management and violence against women.
Initial reports suggest Pistorius will reside in his uncle Arnold’s mansion in Pretoria’s affluent Waterkloof suburb, where he stayed under house arrest during his trial.
The home was staked out by media on Friday, with a police van parked outside and private security vehicles spotted on the premises. Both Arnold and Oscar’s sister Aimee were seen driving away from the house after his bittersweet release.
Reeva’s mother, June Steenkamp, said she has made peace with Pistorius’ parole, even though her pain remains “raw and real” nearly a decade later.
“With the release of Oscar Pistorius on parole, my only desire is that I will be allowed to live my last years in peace with my focus remaining on the Reeva Rebecca Steenkamp Foundation, to continue Reeva’s legacy,” she said in a statement.
But June questioned whether justice was truly served, noting, “Has Oscar served enough time? There can never be justice if your loved one is never coming back, and no amount of time served will bring Reeva back.”
An Inspiring Story Turned Tragic
Before the fatal shooting that derailed his career, Pistorius was considered an inspirational role model and pioneering athletic hero.
Born in 1986 without fibulas, he had both legs amputated below the knee as an infant. But he flourished with prosthetic limbs, earning the nickname “Blade Runner” as he rose to fame shattering records and competing with able-bodied runners.
At the 2012 London Games, Pistorius made history as the first double amputee to participate in the Olympics alongside non-disabled athletes.
With his tenacious spirit, movie-star looks and talent for exceeding expectations, the Johannesburg native became one of the most recognizable faces of the London Olympics. He carried South Africa’s flag at the closing ceremony, realizing his childhood dream.
Lucrative sponsorship deals soon followed with brands like Nike and Oakley. Pistorius’ inspiring journey from disability to the highest levels of sport was featured in tv spots and magazine spreads. He appeared on Time’s 2012 list of the world’s 100 most influential people.
But all that changed in the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day 2013, when he fatally shot Steenkamp inside his Pretoria home, claiming he mistook her for an intruder.
Pistorius admitted to firing four times through a locked bathroom door but claimed he believed an intruder was inside in a panicked moment. Steenkamp, a model and budding reality tv star, died from tragic gunshot wounds to her head, hip and hand.
Shocked South Africans mourned her senseless death at rallies and protests demanding justice.
Sprinter Avoids Maximum Sentence After Conviction
Pistorius faced the possibility of life in prison for premeditated murder. But at trial, Judge Thokozile Masipa accepted his version of confused events and convicted him of the lesser charge of culpable homicide.
In October 2014, he received a maximum 5-year prison sentence for culpable homicide and a concurrent 3-year sentence for recklessly discharging a firearm in public.
But prosecutors appealed the verdict, believing he deserved more prison time, and the Supreme Court of Appeal upgraded his conviction to murder in December 2015, finding that he knew Steenkamp was behind the door.
At re-sentencing in July 2016, Judge Masipa imposed a 6-year sentence for murder, noting substantial mitigating factors like remorse and rehabilitation efforts. With time served, Pistorius faced nearly 6 more years behind bars.
Prosecutors again appealed the sentence as too lenient. The Supreme Court of Appeal then issued a final 13 year and 5 month sentence in November 2017.
Pistorius ultimately served just over half that term before his release on parole at age 37, despite opposition calling for him to remain imprisoned.
June Steenkamp: Reeva’s Death Still ‘Raw and Real’
In her statement, June Steenkamp noted that she and her late husband Barry accepted the parole board’s decision, even if they disagreed with it.
But she questioned whether Pistorius was “fully rehabilitated” and accused him of “still lying” about that traumatic night.
June also confirmed that the pain of her daughter’s death remains very present.
“Has there been justice for Reeva? Has Oscar served enough time? There can never be justice if your loved one is never coming back, and no amount of time served will bring Reeva back,” she said.
“We who remain behind are the ones serving a life sentence.”
She added that her focus now is continuing Reeva’s legacy through the Reeva Rebecca Steenkamp Foundation, which aims to empower and protect women.
What’s Next for Oscar Pistorius
As he re-enters society, Pistorius remains under strict parole conditions and state supervision. Corrections officials warn that his release does not mean he has fulfilled his sentence.
Any violations of his parole, which extends through December 2029, could land Pistorius back in prison.
He is expected to pursue a quiet life with family in Pretoria while meeting parole requirements like community service, rehabilitation programs and regular check-ins.
Pistorius is also said to be in financial difficulty after selling off assets to pay legal fees, meaning future employment could become necessary.
But with his reputation irrevocably tarnished by Steenkamp’s killing, returning to public life or work seems unlikely anytime soon.
For now, Pistorius remains sequestered away by family members still publicly supportive of him as he continues his long road to redemption.
The world-famous Blade Runner will celebrate his 38th birthday in November as he continues serving the remainder of his sentence outside prison walls.