Oscar Pistorius and the Soul of a Nation

Article excerpt

The plight of the South African Olympic star, Oscar Pistorius, who shot his girlfriend dead on Valentine's Day, has also become the plight of a nation trying to find its way in the dark while standing in a blinding spotlight The dilemma was supposed to have been bridged with Nelson Mandela and his reconciliation project But South Africa has just discovered that Mandela drinking tea with the widow of Verwoerd, and sharing the Nobel prize with FW De Klerk, was no panacea for the fundamental problem of poverty and inequalities drawn along racial lines The plight of Pistorius has accentuated the dilemma. Pusch Commey reports.

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OSCAR PISTORIOUS, 26, HAS A compelling story. He was born without a fibula or calf bone, that piece of bone stretching from the knee to the foot without which one cannot walk. His legs were thus amputated at the knee at the age of 11 months. And yet he has run his way to fame and fortune. Defying his limitations, on carbon fibre prosthetics, he even competed against the able-bodied at the London 2012 Olympics and became an inspiration to many across the lines of race, class and nationality. He was a genuine national and international hero who was undeterred by the cards dealt to him by fate, though also to the extent that he is white and has a wealthy family who could navigate his disabilities with money. Not so for many disabled blacks in South Africa.

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His endorsements around the world increased from year to year with his heroics. Nike's alone was valued at $2m among many others. He even became the favourite son and darling of the small Italian town of Gernona. A five-year sponsorship deal netted the small change of $20,000 per annum, including accommodation and expenses. During 2011 and 2012, Pistorius trained in Gemona and attracted crowds and the media. Now the love affair has gone down the drain overnight.

It came as a big shock on Valentine's Day, 14 February 2013, when the world woke up to an Oscar accused of the murder of his beautiful model girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, 29. It would be a return of the OJ Simpson trial in the USA that riveted the world in the 1990s, except that the location had changed to the south of Africa.

In one fell swoop, Oscar's life would change forever. From a choice of five star hotels, he was negotiating for a better prison cell and small mercies in the first week of his bail application.

Prosecutors in search of fame are hot on his heels. At the bail application, the charge was "premeditated murder", which carries a mandatory life sentence, unless there are substantial and compelling reasons.

When he was finally granted bail on 22 February for one million rand ($120,000), the presiding magistrate had his own take on the facts of the case, expressing criticism of both the state and defence case.

The bail was justified. Essentially the most significant factor would not be whether the accused is guilty or not guilty of the offence, but whether he is a "flight risk". He is too well-known and recognisable to flee and hide anywhere in an increasingly smaller world. The bail amount was petty cash for Oscar, who reported an annual income of about $700,000. His extended family has interests in mining, property, and several investments worth millions. They all rallied for prayers in front of the Pretoria Magistrates Court. When bail was announced, an audible sigh of relief, a loud "Yes!", could be heard off camera. Small comfort for the Steenkamp family, who stayed away from the Oscar media circus and kept a dignified silence. On that day, the cremated ashes of Reeva were being interred at a church ceremony in Port Elizabeth, many kilometres away.

The case has been postponed to 4 June for further investigation. From that date, there will be a few more postponements before the case is transferred to the High Court for trial, sometime in 2014. …