I was recently sent an article by a friend. It instantly caught my attention because it was about Oscar Pistorius. And like most people, I am drawn to that tragedy. Isn’t that an awful thing to have to admit? Oscar Pistorius, the Blade Runner, shot four times through the bathroom door and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp. Why? He thought she was an intruder! Was it a tragic accident, as he claims! Who knows? We should leave that to the judge to decide. After all, it is Oscar’s legal right: Innocent until proven guilty.
I do not have DSTV so I have been unable to watch it on television. I discovered that I could tune in and listen to the trial on my iPad. I listened twice and then my blog writing got the upper hand. But many have been guilty of watching the daily court room proceedings as if they were viewing an episode of their favourite soapie! Every evening at half past nine, there would be the latest on the Oscar trial bought to us by Carte Blanche, the leading investigative programme. This trial is being covered by all forms of media. Indeed it is a complete media circus! Yes, the OJ Simpson trial was televised but it happened when the digital era, as we now know it, was on the cusp of being what it is today. Facebook was in its infancy. Twitter was still something that birds did. Digital radio broadcasting did not exist, as the Internet was still at tortoise speed.
Now it is a different case completely. It seems everyone has an opinion and they are quite happy to express it with gusto and zeal. Often I want to shout loudly: “STOP! EVERYONE, STOP! These are real people, with very real feelings!” But I’m afraid that with those four shots, Oscar lost all hope of privacy and being handled delicately.
Indeed I believe that with those four shots, Oscar Pistorius not only killed Reeva Steenkamp but also killed the Blade Runner that South Africa knew and loved so much.
For the first time ever, I am allowing someone else to do this blog for me. Read this eloquent, heart felt piece that Heather Malcherczyk has written……
Roads Called Goodness and Forgiveness
Nelson Mandela once said while in prison “If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be called goodness and forgiveness”. How soon have his words and his example been forgotten, for when observing South Africa’s response to the tragedy that has befallen Oscar Pistorius, goodness and forgiveness appear to be qualities in very short supply.
Last week, we saw Judge Thokozile Masipa rule that Oscar is to enter a period of psychological evaluation, the latest twist in what is being hailed as a landmark trial for South Africa. Whilst this may not have been the intended outcome of Dr Vorster’s expert testimony, this may prove to be a period of respite for Oscar, away from the scorching glare of the global spotlight. Perhaps a time to rest and regain physical and emotional strength, before the unyielding onslaught of the trial resumes, as it marches side by side with the media’s and public’s relentless obsession with this very personal tragedy. Whilst my views are unlikely to be greeted with much regard or enthusiasm, I would suggest that the imposed hiatus would also be an opportune time for a period of national reflection and soul-searching. Indeed, I would suggest that many of his countrymen, more than Oscar, would benefit from self-examination and psychological analysis. Not since Mandela has one South African been under such intense public scrutiny; stripped bare, every factual or fictional detail of his life publicly dissected and made the subject of discussion, entertainment, judgement and unconcealed hatred. Oscar is one man, an athlete, an extraordinary athlete no doubt, but the response is entirely disproportionate, blinkered and prejudicial to ….well, just about everything. Unfortunately, he is the victim of his own achievements; he has fallen foul of that well-known phenomenon that comes with being famous, a national and global celebrity. The public glorified him and put him on a pedestal, only to take pleasure in knocking him off when they deemed him no longer worthy of that exalted position. It seems that kicking a man when he’s down enhances the feeling of superiority and as Oscar’s case bears out, the greater the adoration before, the more brutal the attack when floored.
Ever since the police used the media for their own ends and titillated the public with a perception of Oscar the hero really being Oscar the villain, the die was cast and the hate train started rolling. It didn’t matter that the information was misleading and the inference untrue, he didn’t stand a chance. That day, Oscar Pistorius, national hero, golden son of the rainbow nation was re-branded national pariah and fairness, truth, justice and perspective were recklessly abandoned. That day, open season was declared and the media and public, alarmingly desensitised to their perception of Oscar as a thinking, feeling, human being, have since witnessed to the world the worst of human characteristics; greed, self-ambition, jealousy, a desire for revenge and stone cold hate. By June 2013 and Oscar’s second court appearance, Magistrate Thulare issued a warning against the unfolding ‘trial by media’ but little was done to stem the surging tide of speculation and gossip. Social media provided the primary platform for those eager to spit venom and spread the poison of hatred and vengeance, showing a contemptuous disregard for the principle of presumption of innocence and the concept of human decency.
In a country where the police force is woefully inept and no stranger to corruption, one would expect an almost reverential upholding of the principle of presumption of innocence. Not so. Not only has the media, and public, felt free to spread and believe un-evidenced speculation and gossip, the world disturbingly witnessed a government minister blatantly spurning this fundamental principle of justice. With a police investigation hardly begun, Lulama Xingwana, South Africa’s Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities, unashamedly joined campaigners outside a courtroom, declaring that Oscar should be denied bail and supporting the message that he ‘must rot in jail’. How could South Africans sit back and accept a government minister making unjustified public statements fundamentally opposed to a citizen’s rights under law and constitution, and unashamedly seeking to influence the proper administration of justice? These actions implied; at best a misguided attempt at raising the profile of a particular cause or; at worst a cynical effort to manipulate this tragedy to fulfil her own personal agenda. Either way, it was a disturbing move from someone purporting to protect the rights of the disabled, indeed the rights of Oscar himself.
Set against this background of bigotry and unethical behaviour, I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked at the self-serving tactics and theatricals demonstrated by the state prosecutor. But I was. That a supposed exponent of justice should gleefully bully, harangue, mock and torment a traumatised witness is unconscionable. That he should use the courtroom as his own personal stage and ‘play to the gallery’ to boost his own ego and pride, is obscene and unethical. There are those who publicly justify Nel’s behaviour under the premise that he’s ‘just doing his job’ but surely there must be a place for scruples and integrity to exist in the courtroom, even for the state prosecutor. Watching the trial unfold and the twists and turns that it has taken, I have reached the sad and cynical conclusion that for some protagonists this is not about a search for justice, it isn’t even about Reeva any more, it is about ego, pride and ultimately, the win. Gerrie Nel appears to be on a mission to destroy this young man at any cost, rather than lose face under worldwide scrutiny, even at the expense of justice, morality or basic human decency. Indeed, this trial is now so far removed from human decency that commentators refer to it as a ‘human chess game’. A ‘game’ where Oscar is the unwitting pawn and divisive tactics are valued above truth and justice. In the meantime, a young man’s future hangs in the balance and two families have had the hearts ripped right out of them.
Such is the frenzy of interest in this case, that legal professionals, pseudo experts, media pundits and gossip columnists have taken advantage of a surfeit of willing followers, who hang, cult-like, on their every word, true or false, interpreting them to suit their own beliefs and versions of events. Many have no real interest in the truth; they don’t want Oscar to be innocent, they want him punished for having been what they were not. So they wait, vulture-like, to be fed the next morsel, the juicier the titbit the better, meat for their hate. Social media is the pundit’s kingdom; they saddle up their high horses and impart their words of wisdom to an ever increasing band of followers with an insatiable appetite for scandal and little regard for Oscar’s life or human rights. They delight in their overnight celebrity, gained on the back of a lost life and a broken man, and with insensitive disregard for another’s trampled dreams they openly relish their own moment in the spotlight. They sit on TV panels, hold seminars and write their blogs, each basking in their brief moment of fame; perhaps hoping that the limelight won’t dim when it’s all over or that there’s a lucrative book deal to be had. One legal expert, a self-styled trial guru on twitter, asked a question this week ‘So, what do you think of South Africa’s justice system after the last two months’? My reply was; that it was ‘reminiscent of a Roman amphitheatre, where men play God and the crowds shout and cheer waiting expectantly for the thumbs down’. I could have expanded further had my reply not been constrained to a 140 character limit, however since his response was to instantly block me, I assume it wasn’t the answer he either wanted or expected. Or maybe, just maybe, it touched a moral nerve.
Am I cynical? Yes, undoubtedly. Outraged? Absolutely. Shocked? For sure. All of those and more. Some days, I think I need to invent a new word, one which combines all of these with the utter sense of sorrow and helplessness I feel at witnessing such cruelty and heartlessness. But it’s an emotion that extends beyond the power of words, which only tears and prayer can express. But am I surprised? Not so much. As an outsider, I see South Africa as a place of breath-taking natural beauty with an extraordinary history, a resourceful and resilient people, vast cultural and economic divides, political uncertainty and an inbred level of envy, hatred and intolerance that takes my breath away. It’s a certainty that those described above are shaped by this complex and troubled society. A society where crime rates are staggeringly high and people live in fear, unable to trust in a police force beset by ineptitude and corruption. A society where government representatives seek to influence the course of justice and where bullying and intimidation is held in higher regard than integrity and decency, even in the justice system. A society where the media is easily manipulated by the promise of scandal and enticed by the smell of easy gain. A society where experts, those that are looked to for their higher example, respond by grabbing their moment of fame for their own greed and selfish ambition. A society where a man’s life is treated like a game, played out dramatically on TV screens across the country, offering a voyeuristic opportunity to feel better about one’s own small, unsatisfying and imperfect life. A society where ordinary people are so full of hate, they hunt in packs to seek out the vulnerable and fallen, prime pickings for those that are neither brave, nor noble and who are sustained by the hatred and encouragement of others. And ultimately, a society where many are so devoid of human empathy that they go out of their way to disparage the motives of those blessed with compassion and trivialise fine principles such as trust, loyalty, friendship, forgiveness and human kindness.
Refelecting upon the circumstances that have compelled me to write these words, it strikes me as immensely sad, for I have no doubt that it is unhappiness, inequality, and discontent that breeds such cruelty and immorality. Kind, fulfilled people simply don’t go around trying to hurt and destroy others for their own ends or seek voyeuristic entertainment in the suffering of others. Ultimately, I can’t help feeling that South Africa is such a fractured and damaged society that it is easier to lay the blame for its ills at the feet of a vulnerable, fearful, young man who made a catastrophic mistake, than to be held accountable for its part in this dreadful tragedy.
There’s an overwhelming sense of hopelessness that comes from witnessing, and experiencing; hatred, hypocrisy and judgement on this scale, that a person might be forgiven for burying their head in the sand and blinding oneself to the pain and suffering. But in doing so, they would miss the glimmers of hope that shine like welcome chinks of light through darkness: the intelligence of those who understand that compassion is not exclusive and whose hearts go out to all those affected by this tragedy. The empathy of those with an innate ability to put themselves in another’s shoes and whose driving motivation is compassion not judgement. The courage of those who willingly offer friendship and support, despite themselves becoming objects of hatred and the contempt of others. The professional integrity of experts who show a sound respect for the law, the constitution, impartiality and ultimately justice, for whom delivering unbiased and truthful insight is valued above self-ambition and who love giving voice to the unheard rather than hearing the sound of their own. The heart-rending grief and remorse shown by a good man who is haunted by the memories of having taken the life of the woman he, and others, loved. The beautiful example of love and loyalty shown by his family and true friends, who share his pain so tangibly and who are prepared to stand by him for as long as it takes. And finally, Judge Masipa, with her intellect, her stillness, her quiet dignity, her words of wisdom and God willing, her search for truth and justice. It is with these people, and like-minded others, on whom the hope of the nation rests, for despite the endless obstacles and road-blocks encountered, they steadfastly navigate the roads called goodness and forgiveness and never give up on their dreams of a beautiful South Africa.
So how about you? Are you brave enough to follow them? Are you able to re-direct your gaze from Oscar for a while, turn your intolerance inwards, question your prejudices, scrutinise your motives and contemplate your own shortcomings before you re-focus your attention and your judgements on Oscar. If so, the next 30 days presents the ideal opportunity to show the world that this really is about the search for truth, even if that truth has unpalatable connotations for society. For the sake of South Africa, hold on to the beautiful dream and let this really be about goodness, forgiveness and justice.