by Nick van der Leek
It’s Easter, a celebration of the March equinox. It’s that time of the year when day and night are of equal duration. It happens twice a year; the second equinox is in September.
Easter, lest we forget celebrates death, fertility and resurrection.
The name itself derives from Ēostre, a dawn goddess from Germanic paganism. Even the pagans celebrated Easter; the beginning of spring, a time for planting crops, newborn lambs, the darling buds of May and a season of warmer weather.
Of course in South Africa Easter heralds the opposite. The onset of winter here heralds a deadline. By now all crops ought to have been harvested, all stalks reaped. But not Oscar Pistorius.
The case continues, and is likely to take us well into winter. Will we have a verdict by September?
Probably. But as the trial unfolds, those Easter themes don't disappear. Yes, they aren’t going away. What were they again? Death. Fertility. Resurrection. Let’s examine them in reverse order.
On the 10th of April, Rebecca Davis wrote an analysis published in The Daily Maverick titled: WILL THE REAL OSCAR PISTORIUS PLEASE STAND UP. In her analysis Davis astutely highlights one aspect of particularly Christian import. In fact it was a specifically ‘Easter’ pledge. With Reeva bleeding to death in his arms, Oscar cried out (to an audience of at least three people) that he would dedicate his life (and Reeva’s) to God, if she would only live. Of this, Davis writes: “We can’t know the precision with which Stipp recalled Pistorius’ exact words, but there’s an intriguingly proprietary aspect in promising someone else’s life to God on their behalf.”
In the same article Davis highlights something else worth noting. Oscar’s uncle Arnold, just two weeks into the trial, approached June Steenkamp and told her: “Like you we are trying to fight for a life and a life lost.” But think about that for a second. No really, take a second. What life are we talking about that is lost here? In Oscar’s own words: “I’ve taken responsibility, by not wanting to live my life but waiting for my time on the stand to tell my story.”
Davis suggests that Oscar sees his year waiting for trial as ‘a form of sufficient penance’.
Of course we know during this time he had his bail conditions relaxed, he was seen in Mozambique, he resumed training and was spotted visiting the odd watering hole. In April last year, on the heels of an apology posted on his website, Oscar apparently flirted with women at a party at the Kitchen Bar restaurant. It was the party of tow-truck baron, Craig Lipschitz, a man who hit the headlines himself in 2008 for his involvement in a vicious brawl with an ex-bouncer in Sandton.
Just prior to this appearance Pistorius’ spokesman said: "There is not a moment in the day that Oscar does not mourn for his girlfriend, and Reeva's family and all those who were close to her are in his thoughts constantly."
Yes it does seem as though he has thought a lot about her. And what was in it for her. And what happened to her. And what it must have felt like being dead for the past year. All this whilst entering into a new relationship with a brunette teenager.
Make no mistake, celebrity is a form of idolatry. But this hero is a fake. And there is no end to it; the fakery, the theatre and the mockery goes on. The Pistorians (oddly enough all women) want to be clear that even a murderer is worthy of hugs, balloons and our love. Really?
More recently, Jani Allan has expressed the outrage that is so sorely missing from every discussion of this case. If there is outrage, it’s measured. It’s stoic, just as the Steenkamp family have been stoic, and even forgiving. But if our authentic feelings aren’t good enough, what is appropriate under these circumstances?
Here’s a shocker. It is not the public’s job to reserve judgement. We are not lawyers, we are society. We aren’t judges either, it is true, but we are (or should be) the arbiters in the end of our own culture, and standards. Our job is to care and to develop a public response. A social reaction.
The question we're being asked is this: Is this world we live in the world we want? Are these the sort of people we admire? Do we want people like this to be an integral part of our social fabric? Should we aspire to this? Are these people of the sort we ought to accept? And is this who we are?
“...the life you led was without spirit. It was a wasteland filled with expensive toys and recidivist acts. The sound of your delighted cackles as you shot at a watermelon – a zombie-stopper – I believe you called it, was so disparate from your whiny-girly mimsy court voice that it’s difficult not to burst out laughing while listening to you. Oscar, I look at you mewling and puking in the witness stand. You truly represent everything that the West loathes about white South Africans who live extravagant lives in their expensive laagers.”
In a word, Oscar represents entitlement. Entitlement is another word for privilege. What privileges do the rich enjoy? Is the life of another expendable to my own hearts desires? Can the life of a person be compared to sums of money hanging in the balance? If you can offer up someone’s life to God while they are dying (and on their behalf) to save yourself, you are suffering from narcissism of the highest order, and that's low. Underneath that narcissism, beneath the veneer of manicured suits, clipped fingernails, acting lessons and PR is something of incomparable ugliness.
And now, without further ado, the inconsistencies
1.Whilst on the stand, during cross-examination by the state prosecutor, Oscar made this slip. “The more famous I am the more money...” He started saying this and then corrected himself: “The more famous I am doesn't mean the more money I make”. Let's forget for the moment that this is in itself both untrue and disingenuous.
Gerrie Nel had just referenced Oscar’s message to Reeva: "Angel please don't say a thing to any one..." Asking to explain this message, Oscar (avoiding eye contact with Nel) said, "I didn't want [it]to be in the media.”
Why wouldn’t he though? Because of the money that would be at stake. Oscar says as much when he uses the word “afford”. He can’t afford this to be in the media, he says, but he can. He’s wealthy. It’s not a positive story by any means, but it wouldn’t be the end of his world. Would it dent his image and perhaps curtail a bonus here or there, absolutely. What is important here is the admission. Because it points directly to avarice.
2. "No, My Lady, Reeva was never scared of me, My Lady.” This was Oscar’s response to Reeva’s whatsapp messages, with Nel putting it to Oscar that she was often afraid of him. The question is: Are we supposed to take this denial at face value? Bearing in mind Michelle Burger’s testimony of terrified screams, screams of a woman who knew her life was in danger, screams that were reaching a climax, screams like jackals that still haunt her a year later. Screams that reduced her to tears when Nel asked Burger to recollect them. Those same screams launched two husbands out of their beds and onto their balconies in the dead of the night. The critical slip of the tongue here? It’s in the word ‘never’.
Has Oscar forgotten when Reeva phoned her mother whilst in Oscar’s car? When Reeva told June Steenkamp he was scaring her by driving recklessly fast? June Steenkamp says this was the one and only time (until Reeva’s death) she spoke to Oscar, and what she said was: “I warned him that if he hurt my baby in any way I would wipe him out.”
But South African society seems to have adopted the same polite stoicism in the face of a man who not only hurt that baby (whom he called ‘baba’), but shot her to death. It’s difficult to overemphasise the violence of her death.
3.A pathologist recently described the bullet wound to her arm as the equivalent of “an instant amputation.” When Oscar describes it he uses the most benign euphemism possible. “Her arm was broken.”
4. When Oscar describes Reeva his descriptions are mute and constrained. But his descriptions of everyone else are in the finest details. “The officer had shorts on...they were casually dressed...” He even tells us where they were standing, what they say to him, their gestures and movements. About Stipp we even get a psychological assessment. “He seemed overwhelmed by the...the situation.” Stipp was a doctor, and what he discovered was basically a young woman who had been shot to death. If her injuries had not killed her, the loss of blood had. If there was nothing he could do to save her, this does not mean he was overwhelmed.
Oscar describes himself shouting and screaming, but would probably stop short at using his own word (overwhelmed) on himself.
5. When Oscar describes finding Reeva in the bathroom, breathing again, he describes sitting on his ‘bum’. When he describes how she is sitting, in later testimony, he uses the word ‘buttock’.
Of the incident itself he says: “I perceived someone coming out of the toilet...” Perceived is another manufactured word. We don't speak like that. Imagined is better, but ‘I thought I saw’ (if it really happened) is the most authentic.
6.Speaking about her corpse, Oscar asks us to believe how sensitive he is:“When I saw Reeva I got sick.” Yet he was able to carry her body downstairs, and put his fingers in her mouth.
7.Consider the detail in Oscar describing where he stood when the medical team attended to her body. “I stood where the dining room and kitchen kind’ve meet...” He’s describing in detail his open plan house and uses a casual term like ‘kind’ve’ to describe the scene and context when Reeva was pronounced dead.
Life is not fair. People get away with things all the time, from the lowest bottom dwellers to the highest pond scum. Politicians and pickpockets. Jilted lovers and the jobless. Absent parents and their ungrateful offspring. We care about accountability because accountability matters. Accountability is part of the Natural Order of Things. It’s a key tenet of every faith, but you don’t have to be a believer to know or appreciate the idea of responsibility. It is not enough for justice to be done, we need to see it being done, so that we have at least some confidence in society, in authority, in our fellow man and ourselves. We enjoy the freedoms we have exactly because we know others respect our personal rights, and we reciprocate. When this social contract breaks down it matters. It’s worthy of our attention.
If anything good can be resurrected out of the interminable Easter-time of this trial,this movable feast, it is this: we need to be honest with ourselves. We need to recognise when others are not being honest with us. In our relationships, in our families, in our living and the sharing of our lives with others in this world. We must remember that justice and accountability are one and the same. When we self-examine ourselves, as this trial asks us to do, we become better people, and we make a better society. When we examine ourselves life becomes fairer. When we remember accountability integrity returns. When we’re honest, living becomes authentic and the people around us more genuine. More real. Isn’t that a result worth celebrating?
1. The Untold Story Surrounding Reeva Steenkamp
2. Speculations as to what REALLY happened.