What is the story with Oscar Pistorius?
The world took a collective gasp of shock when Oscar Pistorius, internationally successful Paralympic athlete, shot and killed his model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp on Valentines Day 2013. Some think that he intended to murder Reeva; he maintains he thought he was shooting a burglar who had broken into his home.
Ultimately, whatever happens, there are no winners in this case. A beautiful young lady, at the brink of a successful career, is dead. Her family are devastated. Oscar has her blood on his hands, his career is in tatters, and his family are devastated too. What sits behind this crime? In a world in which life is valued, is the same value attached to life everywhere?
South Africa is a country in which the “normal” first world approach to the sanctity of life has been skewed. It is a country with one of the highest murder rates in the world, outside of a war zone. Firearms are owned and licensed to many private citizens, and security on private homes is taken very seriously, with high walls, electric fences, panic buttons, private security companies and neighbourhood watches considered part and parcel of daily life.
However, a lot of the violence is overtly criminal. The number of unlicensed firearms and illegal gun ownership is extremely high. Armed robberies, hijackings, muggings and seemingly senseless murders, blamed on factors such as anger, poverty, general lawlessness, and the huge rich/poor divide account for much of the murder statistics. However the level of domestic violence is extremely high, with family murders – partners killing partners, estranged spouses murdering their ex-wives or children, and also parents, usually fathers, killing their families before committing suicide themselves, often to escape financial disaster.
But what caused an affluent and successful national hero to kill his on-again, off-again girlfriend of just 3 months? How could he have possibly thought that the actions of minutes would not destroy decades for two families? He lived in a very secure walled housing complex, with guards, high walls, alarm systems and regular security patrols. What were the chances of a burglar hiding in his toilet? He shot someone, whether he truly thought it was a burglar or whether he knew it was Reeva, through a closed and locked toilet door. His life was not under immediate threat – one of the criteria for taking the life of another. He was sharing a bed with another person. Is it possible to take such dramatic action as firing shots at an unknown intruder that you can’t see, without noticing that the other person in the bed or in the house was nowhere to be seen, and certainly not in the bed next to you?
Oscar maintains that he did not have his artificial legs strapped on at the time, and therefore felt more vulnerable than a normal able-bodied person will have felt. Does this affect his case? Is he more justified, if this is proven to be true? He went back to his bedroom, strapped on his legs, and only then got around to breaking down the locked toilet door to get at the dying Reeva. Did she not scream or shout or gasp in between the shots? Does it make a difference that he shot several bullets through that door, and not just one disabling shot?
The psychology involved in growing up in a country with a heightened level of violence has an affect on each of it’s citizens, often in different ways. Likewise, the seemingly invincible feelings of those who have made a lot of money, or achieved particularly high levels of success and recognition in their fields is well documented. He and his brother had got away, at the time of the shooting, with previous violence or thoughtless behaviour that would ordinarily warrant at least a police warning. He was a man who had always felt different to his schoolmates and peers due to his disability. Did that attract special treatment that could have impacted on this event? And what of Reeva, a woman who had recently complained to family and friends about Oscar’s volatile temper and behaviour, but who was due that day to go and speak to children about the problems of domestic abuse. Was she in any way to blame for what happened?
There are also two devastated families, one with a murdered child, the other with a killer as a child. How easy is either of those situations to cope with, and how do they make sense of life going forward? Whatever the outcome of the court case, the past can never be undone. Life will never return to the same level of “normal”. How do they cope not just with the loss of their child, or the loss of their child’s innocence, but with the loss of freedom and general joie de vivre to them all that will be so difficult for the to get back?
South Africa is also a country with a incredibly high rate of unsolved crimes. There are hundreds of murderers roaming free, able to continue their life of devastation. There are hundreds of families of murdered victims, never knowing why their family member was targeted. Never having the closure of knowing that justice has, as much as possible, been dispensed. I know. My family and I are part of these statistics.
My little brother Christopher was murdered in his place of work just weeks after his 21st birthday. Four men were arrested, fingerprinted, and released on a bail of less than £4, never to be seen again. Case files were lost or misplaced, policemen pleaded ignorance, justice was never done. At least, odd as it may sound to many, Reeva’s family know who killed her, and will hopefully get some answers and see some justice being delivered. While those whose crimes were less high profile form part of the muddy, murky place where questions are never answered and murder goes unpunished.
There are physical occurrences, with seemingly concrete reasons and results, but there is the emotional and mental space where decisions are made, actions are taken, and rationalisation of so much seemingly inexplicable behaviour takes place. If we seek to understand this, does it help us to make sense of the seemingly nonsensical? The story behind the story is always fascinating.
What is the story behind Oscar and Reeva?