Two weeks before she died, South African model and lawyer Reeva Steenkamp was so troubled by the shocking gang rape and brutal murder of a teenage girl in South Africa on Feb. 2, 2013, she felt compelled to act.
“She phoned me saying she wanted to do something about all this abuse,” her mother, June Steenkamp tells WHO. “The morning she died she was due to talk at a high school. She had a whole speech.”
Five years after Reeva’s death in one of the decade’s most shocking and controversial murder cases, her mother is carrying on that crusade.
In the early hours of Feb. 14, 2013, Reeva’s boyfriend, the once-celebrated Paralympian and Olympian Oscar Pistorius, then 26, shot dead the 30-year-old through a locked bathroom door at the athlete’s luxury home in Pretoria.
Two years later, inspired by her daughter’s ambition, June created the Reeva Steenkamp Foundation (RSF), a not-for-profit organisation that aims to educate children about violence, bullying and abuse.
“I thought straight away of a foundation to protect women, for awareness for them to realise what they were involved in,” says June, 71. “Violence against women is escalating daily now. Reeva was already working against abuse, I’m taking the baton and going forward with it.”
It’s been a positive step in the life of a still-grieving mother. Speaking to WHO from her home in Port Elizabeth, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province, where she lives with husband Barry, a former horse trainer, June reveals that the passage of time has not diminished her heartache.
“One would imagine that after five years it would be easier, but it’s actually not,” says June.
“Reeva was such an inspiring person and devoted to Barry and me. Some days it’s actually more difficult.”
June was busy preparing for the day In the early hours of Valentine’s Day, 2013, when a detective phoned to tell her Reeva had been killed in what Pistorius described as a “devastating accident.”
The tragedy gripped the world: South Africa’s national hero, a double amputee who had overcome incredible odds to become the first amputee to compete at an Olympic Games, had shot dead his girlfriend, a law graduate whose beauty landed her modelling jobs, magazine covers and an upcoming role in the popular South African reality-TV show Tropika Island of Treasure.
He claimed he believed an intruder had entered his home, in a gated estate, when he opened fire through the bathroom door.
In the 2014 trial, a judge found Pistorius guilty of culpable homicide (manslaughter) which was upgraded to murder on appeal in 2015. He is now serving a 15-year term and plans to appeal this year.
For June, forming the foundation was a way to ensure Reeva’s legacy of love will live on.
“I wanted to do something instead of sitting at home crying,” she says. “You can only cry so much. So I thought, I must do something about this.”
To that end, the RSF is raising awareness of the violence and abuse suffered by women and children not only in South Africa but around the world, including in Australia, where June has delivered talks.
“The object is to reach kids when they are very young,” she says. “There is so much bullying at school and there’s the breakdown of the family. I’m going to go to schools and speak to children.”
Her mission is to save lives. “I’m 71 now so I don’t know how much time I have left. Seeing results would give me great pleasure,” she says. “I’m obsessed with the foundation now. ”
And she’s guided by the enduring spirit of her daughter. “She loved us and doted on us, so it’s difficult living without her,” says June.
“I’m sure she knows what I’m doing. It would make Reeva incredibly proud of me.”
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