Michael Morris, IOL, December 17, 2016
City of Cape Town transport official and former journalist Steven Otter died of stab wounds to the chest and face early on Friday after confronting intruders in the Harfield Village home that he moved into just two weeks ago.
The attack occurred at about 4am.
A neighbour awoke to screams from Otter’s corner home at 26 Cambridge Street, the last unit of a renovated terrace, and arrived to find 43-year-old Otter bleeding profusely in the arms of his partner, Nathalie Williams. He died soon after.
Williams’s daughter, Madison, 7, was also in the house at the time.
A sombre atmosphere pervaded the quiet street later in the morning as a police forensic team sealed the property for the murder investigation.
The house is around the corner from popular Harfield Village steakhouse, Brad’s Grill.
Police spokesman Andre Traut said: “Two suspects fled the scene with a television set, a laptop computer and a cellular telephone, and are yet to be arrested.”
Otter was widely known in political and media circles, and beyond. News of his death was greeted with shock and sadness.
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, for whom Otter had worked when she was leader of the Independent Democrats, said she was devastated by his murder.
A city statement said: “Mayor De Lille fondly referred to Otter as ‘Stevovo’ or ‘my pavement special’ in reference to his eccentric nature.”
De Lille added: “I have known and worked with dear Stevovo for many years and he was truly a one-of-a-kind person whose dedication was certainly one of his greatest traits. He will be sorely missed.”
Speaking from Taipei, where he is a teacher, one of Otter’s brothers, Thomas, told the Weekend Argus: “From a very early age, Steven always had a heart for those less fortunate than himself. And if we walked to the corner shop and he had a little money for sweets, he’d always share them.”
In the early 2000s, Otter gained attention for choosing to live in Khayelitsha. iLitha Park was his home for a year.
The experience – which coincided with his stint as a journalist at the Cape Argus – is the subject of his book, uMlungu in a Township, which was published by Penguin in 2007.
Politician and former activist Cameron Dugmore, who spoke at the Khayelitsha launch of the book, posted on Facebook on Friday: “Really devastated by this news. Remember with fondness speaking at the launch of his book… He was a special human being who cared for others and I enjoyed the little time I spent with him. You still had so much to give.”
Otter was at the centre of controversy some years ago in a labour dispute with the provincial department of Transport and Public Works, which he joined when the ID merged with the DA.
At the time, his claims that his unconventional dress code – he often went without shoes – was among factors that led to his disputed transfer to another job were dismissed by the department.
Senior provincial official Hector Eliott, who worked with Otter in that difficult period but with whom he had since had an amicable relationship, said: “I admired him in many ways. He was an extraordinary man.”
Otter’s eccentricity is undisputed by friends and colleagues who suggest it was part of who he was, and was indistinguishable from his adventurous and generously tolerant nature.
As Transport for Cape Town’s head of community engagement over the past two-and-a-half years, he won the respect and admiration of colleagues and stakeholders.
Mayoral committee member for transport Brett Herron said of Otter – who was tasked with keeping communities informed and involved in MYCiTi and roads projects – that he “found his niche in Transport for Cape Town and was always focused on ensuring a fair outcome for the most vulnerable and marginalised”.
“It will be impossible to replace the kind of passion, care and commitment he displayed.”
The city said Otter was “instrumental in a number of breakthroughs in Transport for Cape Town, most recently in the longstanding impasse over the upgrade of roads in Imizamo Yethu which had been delayed for decades due to community resistance. Otter knocked on every resident’s door to ask the community to work with the city”.
Herron said: “He really unlocked a project that was blocked for many years.”
In a stream of Facebook posts, family, friends and colleagues expressed their sadness at his death.
A friend wrote: “To the man with charisma, smart lines, (who was) never too serious and (was always) easy going… you will always be remembered for your selfless deeds and passions.”
One wrote: “I met him when I was young and he was living in Khayelitsha. It is sad to lose someone like Steven in such a (cowardly) act.”
Another said simply: “It is unbearably sad. It cannot be that Steven Otter is no more….”
Otter is survived by his parents, Peter and Janet, siblings Albert, Thomas and Bronwen, his ex-wife Janine Lange, their child, Maya, 6, and his partner Nathalie.