A Pistorian’s plea: Give Oscar a fair trial

2014-06-30 08:00

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Having lived with a double amputee father, Heather Malcherczyk tells of how Oscar Pistorius story of fear and vulnerability on the terrible night of the shooting resonates with her

A month ago, Judge Thokozile Masipa ruled that Oscar Pistorius was to undergo psychological evaluation, the latest twist in what is being hailed as a landmark trial for South Africa.

From the outset, the state’s prosecution team has titillated the public with a story line of “Oscar the hero” really being “Oscar the villain”. It didn’t matter whether the information was misleading or the inferences untrue. The die was cast.

By June last year – Oscar’s second court appearance – Magistrate Daniel Thulare issued a warning against a “trial by media”, but this did not stem the surging tide of speculation and gossip.

In a country where the police are beset with challenges, one would expect an almost reverential upholding of the principle of presumption of innocence. Not so.

Lulama Xingwana – then minister for women, children and people with disabilities – joined campaigners outside the courtroom, saying Oscar should be denied bail.

How could South Africans sit back and accept such unjustified public statements fundamentally opposed to a citizen’s rights under law?

I suppose I shouldn’t have been shocked at the tactics and theatrics demonstrated by the state prosecutor in this trial, but I was. That a supposed exponent of justice should bully, harangue, mock and torment a traumatised witness is unconscionable.

There are those who publicly justify Advocate Gerrie Nel’s behaviour under the premise that he’s “just doing his job”, but surely the courtroom must be a place of conscience, ethics and integrity, and not a space where “playing to the gallery” draws applause.

I have reached the sad and cynical conclusion that this is not about a search for justice. It isn’t even about the victim, Reeva Steenkamp. It’s about ego, pride and “the win”. Nel appears to be on a mission to win at all costs – even if that means destroying Oscar in the process.

Legal professionals, pseudoexperts, media pundits and gossip columnists all jostle for a piece of the action. They sit on TV panels, hold seminars, write blogs and hold forth on social media – each basking in their moment in the spotlight.

The Oscar trial reflects a society desperate for retribution. Picture: Independent Newspapers

As an outsider, I see South Africa as a country with an extraordinary and painful history, vast cultural and economic divides, political uncertainty and an internalised level of envy, hatred and intolerance that takes my breath away.

For me, there is an overwhelming sense of hopelessness that comes from witnessing hatred, hypocrisy and judgement on this scale. But in the darkness, there are some glimmers of light and hope.

The intelligence of those who understand that compassion is not exclusive; the professional integrity of those who show a sound respect for the law, the Constitution, impartiality and ultimately justice; the heart-rending grief and remorse shown by a man clearly 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 friends who share his pain so tangibly; and finally, Judge Masipa, with her intellect, quiet dignity, words of wisdom and, God willing, search for truth and justice.

The hope of your nation rests with these people, for despite the endless obstacles, they navigate the roads called goodness and forgiveness, and never give up on the dream the new South Africa was built upon.

In this trial, that means searching for the truth – even if that truth has unpalatable connotations for a society desperate for retribution.

Malcherczyk has been following the case from her home in England

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