United by Violence

Article excerpt

Byline: Eusebius McKaiser

The story of Pistorius reveals a dark truth about life in South Africa.

Since news broke on Valentine's Day of the arrest on murder charges of Paralympian star Oscar Pistorius, a fascinating pretrial saga is already playing out in South African courts.

Pistorius, we now know, will be arguing a defense of mistaken identity: that he killed his model girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, thinking she was an intruder.

The state insists, however, that it can prove beyond reasonable doubt that it was premeditated murder. Time will tell which version of the story the courts accept. What is already clear, however, is that this is an incredible story of how South Africans' lives are united by violence even in the face of their unequal realities.

Pistorius is wealthy, earning millions of dollars annually in appearance fees, endorsements, and competition wins. Steenkamp, too, was a well-off South African model. And yet, despite the fact that Pistorius and Steenkamp symbolize the deep inequality that makes South Africa an economically unjust place for the poor black majority, this murder case links the couple with those who are poor, black, and anonymous on the other side of the wealth gap.

First, reports of domestic violence at Pistorius's home are not surprising. Violence has become normative here. Wealthy men, black and white, display the same problematic, patriarchal masculinities as men in the many shantytowns around the country. Wealth, and access to exceptional schools like Pretoria Boys High School, which Pistorius attended, do not guarantee that you will be the pacifist exception to a country's narrative about entrenched violence.

Second, in the event that Pistorius is found not guilty--and his defense lawyer had a good crack already at undermining the coherence of the state's case--this incident will remain one that tells us a lot about Pistorius and South Africa. …