Oscar killed our golden girl Reeva so now he must pay us blood money: Barry and June Steenkamp's first newspaper interview about their daughter and Pistorius
- June and Barry Steenkamp caused outrage after suing Oscar Pistorius
- The Paralympian shot their daughter Reeva dead in his home in Pretoria
- Couple say their financial ruin forced them to sue over Reeva's death
- They daughter was helping them will bills and food when she died
By BARBARA JONES
PUBLISHED: 21:59, 29 June 2013 | UPDATED: 21:59, 29 June 2013
Lost lamb: Reeva Steenkamp was shot dead by her boyfriend Oscar Pistorius on Valentine's Day
Reeva was June Steenkamp’s cherished youngest child.
A blessing born late in her life, who blossomed into a beautiful and caring woman, Reeva brought joy and laughter to the daily drudgery of her parents’ lives – and glamour and enchantment to the monotony of their small-town existence.
She was, too, a dutiful daughter who, having found wealth and success, intended to indulge her impoverished parents and secure their financial future.
But then Reeva died, aged 29, terrified and alone, in the bathroom of boyfriend Oscar Pistorius’ luxurious Pretoria gated home after the Paralympian shot her four times through the locked door.
Her death ended any hopes her family harboured that she could save them from financial ruin.
Their subsequent decision to sue millionaire Pistorius for compensation has led to an outcry in their native South Africa, where the grieving couple have been accused of seeking ‘blood money’ for the life of their daughter.
Critics say Reeva would surely be ‘ashamed of her parents for the way they are crying out for money from her killer’.
Now, in their first newspaper interview, June and husband Barry tell how their financial ruin has forced them to sue Pistorius.
How the loss of their daughter has left them broken and bereft.
And how bitterly they regret not noticing warning signs that all was not well in her life.
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‘Our hearts just feel broken. But we have no choice but to sue. Pistorius has placed us in this position,’ says June, 66.
‘We are struggling financially. Reeva was helping us. On the night she died, when she was on her way to Oscar’s house, we talked about her sending us money to pay our cable television bill. I was fretting because I thought I was going to miss her first TV appearance.
‘She told me not to worry, she would send money the next day. She regularly helped us with food and utility bills.’
Bereft: June and Barry Steenkamp, pictured on the beach at Maitland near Port Elizabeth, are suing Oscar Pistorius over the death of their daughter Reeva
Clearly embarrassed at having to tell the world about their financial plight, Reeva’s father Barry, 69, covers his face with his hands and weeps, not just for the loss of his daughter, but also the loss of dignity he has endured by being forced to reveal his poverty.
Speaking to The Mail on Sunday at their home in Port Elizabeth, Barry sobs: ‘I know not everyone understands why we are doing this.
‘It makes me feel awkward, a bit guilty and terrible when people say these awful things. It’s shocking and hurts us so much as a family.’
Now, to compound their pain, Pistorius is even training again, though a spokesman insists that it is simply to help him find ‘the necessary mental and emotional equilibrium to process his trauma’.
The world was stunned when Pistorius, 26, shot Reeva on St Valentine’s Day, claiming that he thought his girlfriend was an intruder.
Until her tragic death, the pair had been South Africa’s Golden Couple: she was a world-famous model on the brink of an even more lucrative TV career; he was the articulate and handsome double-amputee known as the ‘blade-runner’ who transformed our view of paralympian athletes when he ran alongside the able-bodied in London’s 2012 Olympics.
With his £3 million fortune, upmarket properties and obsession for fast cars, he seemed the ideal global ambassador for disabled sport, gracing society magazines and tabloids alike, with Reeva on his arm.
When he was arrested, June was unable to watch the television images that gripped the globe. Instead she has her own harrowing memories that come back to haunt her in the early hours.
Treasured memory: The special Christmas photo of Reeva which her father Barry keeps in his bible, taken when the family lived at the Barry's Arlington Jockey Academy
‘I remember the 5am phone call from Inspector Botha,’ she says. ‘He was the detective in charge of the case. He asked me if I had a daughter, and what was her name.
‘He said there had been an accident, someone had been shot, my Reeva was dead.’
Hysterical, June phoned her husband who was out collecting firewood. ‘I was crying and screaming over the phone, and he couldn’t understand what I was telling him.
'He thought I was telling him the dog was dead. I think he just couldn’t take in what I was trying to tell him. When he came home we went through it together. Since that moment all the joy has gone out of our lives.’
She said her husband sat down, shaking. ‘I told him the inspector had said he wanted to tell us so that we didn’t hear it on the radio or in a newspaper. It was important for us to know.’
June and Barry could not face the formal identification process in Johannesburg. A good friend, Cecil Myers, at whose home Reeva had been staying for several months, offered to carry out the sad task for them. Reeva’s body was then flown to Port Elizabeth for her funeral on February 19, and together her parents found the courage to see her.
‘She was lying on a cold slab, looking waxy and lifeless. It was heart-breaking, the most terrible thing,’ says June.
‘They had put a cap on her head to hide the worst of the bruising where she had been shot, and they had used a lot of make-up. They told me I shouldn’t touch her. But I had to kiss her goodbye, I had to.’
Tiny angel: Reeva as a baby at the family home
June said that image comes into her head every day, along with the painful knowledge of Reeva’s sheer terror as shots were fired at her.
‘I think of her screaming in fear and pain. I can’t get that out of my head.’
She hardly remembers the day of her daughter’s funeral at the city’s Victoria Park crematorium.
‘Somehow I got through the day with the help of wonderful family and friends,’ she says.
‘Barry and I were overwhelmed with the kindness and sympathy we received, and overwhelmed by the love that Reeva had inspired.
'We still don’t know how we would get through each day without their support.’
She said neither of them could bear to watch the never-ending news coverage on TV and in the papers.
‘People asked us if we would go to court for the bail hearing, or when he comes up for the murder trial.
'But there is nothing further from our minds, it is not possible that we could sit through that or lay eyes on Pistorius. We just couldn’t do it.’
Pistorius’ dramatic arrest and court appearances on a charge of premeditated murder again made headlines. But in South Africa, the wheels of justice move slowly. And while Pistorius remains free on bail to enjoy his luxurious life, squiring yet another blonde, fellow athlete Claudia Viljoen, the Steenkamps are locked into unimaginable grief.
Both are in ill-health and, in a country where there is no welfare system, they struggle to pay the rent on their smallholding, a one-storey home tucked at the bottom of a dusty track in Greenbushes, a suburb of primitive block-built bungalows far from Port Elizabeth’s wealthy holiday coastline.
Reeva was a loving daughter only too anxious to help her parents out in their hour of need. When she was growing up, Barry ran a horse farm and owned his own house, but the recession meant he had to sell both, salvaging what he could of his equipment and furniture.
June, who helped him on the farm, was forced to take part-time work as a waitress to help make ends meet.
Worried they were on the brink of bankruptcy, Reeva, a law graduate, had planned to return to Port Elizabeth and set up a legal firm to add to her income from modelling. Now, since her death, they face destitution and have had to issue a public statement saying that offers of financial assistance have been ‘very much appreciated’.
Pistorius’ next court appearance is in Pretoria on August 19, which would have been Reeva’s 30th birthday.
The prosecution will claim the athlete had a jealous row with Reeva and deliberately shot her. For the Steenkamps the anguish will be unbearable. ‘Why? Why did this happen?’ June asks as she dabs her red-rimmed eyes with a handkerchief.
Behind the facade: June and Barry say the sensed something was not quite right between Reeva and her boyfriend Oscar
It’s a question they ask themselves endlessly. Their daughter, they admit was somewhat secretive about her short relationship with the athlete. ‘Although we were close, she didn’t talk a lot about him,’ says June. Reeva had moved to Johannesburg two years ago and lived with a friend. But she did phone her mother most days.
‘I only found out she was dating him when a friend showed me some YouTube pictures of her and Oscar on the red carpet at a sports award ceremony. I called to ask her if this was a new special friend. She said she didn’t want the public speculation that would come from them being seen together. She wanted to keep a low profile until she was sure it was going to be serious. A few weeks later, in early December last year, she told me she had decided to give Oscar all her attention, all her time. She was going to invest in the relationship, she’d made up her mind he was important to her.’
Reeva, who always spent Christmas with her parents, told them she would be celebrating with Pistorius. Her father recalls: ‘She took us to a lovely game farm near Addo Elephant Park [a game reserve near Port Elizabeth] for a weekend and we realised this was her way of spending time with us because she was not coming home for Christmas.’
Reeva’s romantic break with her boyfriend, however, did not happen. She called home to say she was spending the festive season with girlfriends and Pistorius had gone to Cape Town with other friends. ‘We didn’t know what to make of it,’ says June. ‘Girls don’t tell their mothers everything. But she sounded all right and seemed to know where Oscar was and what he was doing. It was strange, though, and we missed her so much that day.’
June’s concerns mounted when Pistorius was spotted partying on a friend’s yacht in Cape Town during the holidays. One newspaper headline asked: ‘Where’s Reeva?’
Back on track: Oscar Pistorius runs at the University of Pretoria, South Africa, earlier this week, during his first track training session since the killing of girlfriend Reeva
June says: ‘But when I spoke to her she seemed calm. She said Oscar had made some plans that didn’t include her and she knew where he was and she was all right about it.
‘She knew he would be seeing another girlfriend there but she seemed determined to appear fine about it, and I thought how like Reeva that was, not making a fuss or raising objections. If that was what he wanted to do, she would be fine about it. Sad, though, that she also missed Christmas with us.’
A few days later Reeva sent a text to say she was feeling unwell and thought she might have flu. ‘I replied, saying I was sending her some love-fairies to make her better,’ says June. ‘She said that worked, she was getting better. That’s how we always spoke to each other, a bit girlish, a bit sentimental, but it was magical between us.’
Slowly, however, Reeva revealed that the couple rowed. Shortly afterwards there was a disturbing incident when she phoned her mother from Oscar’s car and said he was scaring her by driving recklessly fast.
‘I told her to give the phone to Oscar,’ says June. ‘That was the one and only time I ever spoke to him. I warned him that if he hurt my baby in any way I would wipe him out. I know that sounds aggressive but I was desperate to keep Reeva safe. I couldn’t bear to think her life was in danger at his hands. He didn’t say very much, just “OK, Mrs Steenkamp”.’
Desperate to find some explanation for her daughter’s death, June speculates that Reeva, who would refuse to be controlled by anyone and was always assertive and dominant, may have clashed with Pistorius’ controlling behaviour and rages.
‘We don’t know, and we feel we need to know, why he would have turned on her. Why they ever had fights. Reeva didn’t like fights, everyone who knew her was struck by her calmness,’ she says.
As we sit outside their home under the blistering sun, Barry tenderly takes out a family photo album that charts Reeva’s life. He already had a son, Adam, from a previous marriage when he met June, and she had a daughter, Simone, then 18.
Opening up: June and Barry Steenkamp speak for the first time about how they were left with no choice but to sue their daughter's killer
When Reeva was born shortly after they married, they felt their lives were complete. ‘As a child, Reeva was an assertive girl, a lovely, sturdy kid who knew her own mind,’ Barry says. ‘She was horse-mad and when she was three sat astride the family’s trusted skewbald pony, Pinto. She was a natural. Sitting there bare-back she was completely confident. That was Reeva,’ he adds proudly.
The family lived in Cape Town then, where Reeva, kitted out in a rubber ring, splashed in the garden pool. Almost all of her life was spent outdoors in the garden or in a pony’s paddock.
‘She wasn’t an all-out tomboy,’ says Barry. ‘But she could match any boy. At six she was given a BMX bike and could do wheelies as well as anyone, although it was her favourite colour – pink.’
Even as a small child, Reeva was photogenic and posed elegantly in front of the camera. While the couple have numerous albums, there is one picture of Reeva that they treasure, keeping it tucked between the pages of the family Bible. She is 12, posing by their Christmas tree, gleefully excited at the prospect of opening her presents, her eyes glittering with anticipation and joy.
Her parents recall trouble-free teenage years. ‘Reeva never had a temper, never shouted, never argued or talked back at us,’ says June. ‘She was loved by all of us, but also a little girl who knew her own mind.’
As the sun sets outside their home, the Steenkamps slowly walk down the corridor into their living room. Reeva was, they said, their ‘laat lammetjie’ – their late lamb who brought joy to the family. Even when the couple split up for a period when Reeva was a teenager, it was their youngest who brought them back together, loving them equally and determined to restore family life.
Their life now is filled with precious but painful memories. ‘Our loss is total,’ June says. ‘Pistorius has taken away her chance of ever marrying or having children.’
‘Two weeks ago was Father’s Day,’ says Barry. ‘I just wept.’
‘I wake at 3am most nights and it all comes flooding back,’ says June. ‘I have to dredge up all my courage just to get out of bed and face the day. I still expect and want my smiling daughter to walk through the door, but I know it’s never going to happen again.’
Read more: Oscar killed our golden girl Reeva so now he must pay us blood money: Barry and June Steenkamp speak about their daughter and Pistorious for the first time | Mail Online