I went to bed last night more than a little irritated and, to be honest, sad.
Since last week Thursday South Africa has been gripped by the story that Paralympic hero Oscar Pistorius shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day. The “Twittersphere” and other social media is clogged with conspiracy theories, the media has been circling like vultures for days trying to pick up scraps, and there are too many inappropriate, gauche jokes about the incident to mention.
Ever since hearing about it I’ve had an uneasy feeling – which has just grown. Last year the nation was applauding the young double-amputee dubbed “The Blade Runner”. Today, it seems, most people believe him guilty of premeditated murder – based on hearsay, leaked police murmurs, social media rumours and a statement he gave at his bail hearing. Why the sudden, absolute turnaround?
Journalist Alita Steenkamp once described Pistorius as “… a very relaxed young man who always takes life in his stride. He is very focused on what he aspires to reach, but without the arrogance that you often find amongst young sport stars.” That’s the Oscar Pistorius I always heard about – including from acquaintances of mine that know him.
Along with that we’ve also read of his reckless side: of his love of fast cars and boats … and of guns – of how he would often go to a shooting range close to his home late at night when he couldn’t sleep. But does that make him a murderer?
Many of Oscar’s closest friends, and friends of Reeva’s, speak about his affable personality, they speak of how in love the two were and that there were hints of marriage. Oscar, in his court appearance yesterday, was reported to have said how he was “absolutely mortified at the death of (his) beloved Reeva.”
“I cannot bear to think of the suffering I have caused her and her family, knowing how much she was loved,” he continued. Are these the words of a callous murderer or someone desperately trying to come to terms with the fact that he killed the one he loved, by mistake.
The story goes that he thought there was an intruder in his bathroom. In his court statement, Oscar said he felt vulnerable because he was not wearing his prosthetic legs. He shouted a warning, and then shot four times through a closed door. Only afterwards did he realise that Reeva was not in the bedroom and that it was probably she in the bathroom. The explanation sounds ludicrous – but as Mandy Wiener, a reporter for South Africa’s Eyewitness News, notes, “South Africa repeatedly produces material that a best-selling crime writer could never conceptualise … In South Africa, truth is so often stranger than fiction. (But) the reality can hurt so badly that we don’t want to believe it.”
What is the reality here? I don’t know. I don’t know the facts. I do know that South Africa is a violent society, that its crime rate is catastrophically high – much of it violent … Just last night two men broke into our house, while we were asleep, making off with electronic equipment and my car. This is the fourth break-in I’ve experienced, the third car stolen. I know what it’s like to go to sleep barricaded in my bedroom – the door and windows locked – just so that I can sleep semi-easily.
Was Oscar terrified of crime like he claims? Was he acting on instinct at the time of the incident, as his family has led us to believe? I don’t know, but I want to believe the best. I want to believe that it was all a horrible accident. I want to believe more in the Oscar we fell in love with than the one we are told he is now. I don’t want to be one of those adding wood to the pile upon which he is to be burned at the stake.
Because that’s what this last week has felt like – a witch hunt: few people caring about the woman who lost her life, or the man they once revered who has lost everything but his life. I want to try to put myself in his shoes. I want to pray for redemption and restoration, not throw the first stone of accusation. Who am I to accuse anyway? But on and on Twitter, Facebook and the Comments sections of major newspapers belch out gossip and rumour, accusation and slander.
Honestly, it makes me sick.