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Robyn De Klerk
 
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Grieving Oscar. Grieving Reeva.

27 March 2014, 09:07
I have been doing some introspection as to exactly why I find myself so obsessed by the Oscar Pistorius trial.  Why I feel compelled to watch as much of the court proceedings as I can? Why I find this macabre and tragic tale constantly forcing it's way into my thoughts and conversations?

Part of it is definitely the drama and sensationalism or our own real life court room drama.  I confess to being fascinated by the various twists and turns in the legal battle between Nel and Roux.  I was particularly gripped by the evidence of the IT specialist this past week because it fascinates me to learn exactly what "Big Brother" can and cannot learn from our cellphone data, and it leads me to reflect what information lurks about me in my various devices that could one day exonerate me or send me to jail. *Shudder!*  It would be hypocritical of me to deny the entertainment value of Barry Roux's theatrics as he finds inconsistencies in yet another hapless witness's testimony.

But underneath it all I have realized that this very public saga has caused something like a grieving process in me - complete with all the stages psychologists like to identify: denial, anger, bargaining, depression.  And hopefully finally "acceptance" when the final verdict is delivered.  But I am not there yet.

It seems crass and even insulting of me to say that I think I am grieving.  After all I never knew Reeva or Oscar personally.  How dare I claim a part in the grief of those who have lost a daughter or are watching a brother, son, nephew stand trial for murder?  No, my grief has no part of their grief.  It is not even in the same universe.  But it is grief nevertheless.  Complicated grief.

My grief for Oscar is much easier to wrap my mind around.  He is the one I thought I sort of knew.  My memories of watching his races in the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics from the edge of my armchair are still too fresh. I remember Chad Le Clos' incredible races, and how happy Oscar was for him, according to some media reports.  A sporting hero in his own right, and a cheerleader for his team.  I cried when he carried our South African flag during the March of Nations, representing everything I would want my country to be known for. How could I not be in deep mourning for such an incredible hero who has fallen so hard and so far?

The hardest part of it all is that I don't quite know what to make of Oscar these days.  If he is a spoilt, irresponsible, angry young man who killed a beautiful woman in a fit of rage, this fills me with horror.  But at least it allows for closure. I can move him from the "hero" category to the "villain" category and wash my hands of him.  I will be deeply disappointed to do so, but I will understand that heroes are human, we imbue them with character traits they do not actually possess, and that this is just another very dramatic example of that.  I will have lost some of my innocence, chide myself saying I should have known better, and get over it.

But the scenario I find far more troubling is that Oscar is actually telling the truth.  I am haunted by his reported cries as he waited in the garage in the aftermath of the horrific event: "I have killed my baba! God, take me away!"  This is the stuff of nightmares. How can your heart not break for him in that moment? I can't get the pictures of the chaotic scene out of my mind.  How everything Oscar did in the moments following the shooting seemed so uncalculated and how he appears to have been driven by nothing but utter shock, horror and trauma.  As a staunch anti-gun pacifist I am still appalled by his love of guns and his haste to pull the trigger at an unknown target.  But above all I can empathize with his blind terror that, in the blink of an eye, caused him to do something unspeakably stupid, resulting in the loss of a precious and beautiful life, and the utter destruction of his own.  When I allow my mind to go there, to accept even for a moment that this is the Oscar I now see in the dock from day to day, then every shred of evidence becomes excruciatingly painful and my own stomach begins to churn not unlike his so regularly does.  I find it deeply unpleasant to picture someone like this in a South African prison.

And then there is my grief for Reeva and her family.  I know her even less than I thought I knew Oscar.  In fact everything I know about her I learnt after and because of her death.  But I certainly know how it feels to lose a loved one in tragic circumstances, and I wouldn't wish the experience on my worst enemy.  Reeva seems like someone I would have liked to have known.  Someone I could have looked up to, just as I looked up to Oscar. Human too, to be sure.  But for all that a beautiful woman, but also very bright and accomplished.  Someone who stood up for herself and had strong boundaries.  Who asserted herself eloquently and forcefully when they were crossed.  A loving daughter and friend. Someone who spoke out against violence against women and children.  Who loved animals.  Someone who could serve as a role model to young woman.  The world is poorer, colder and darker because someone like that is no longer with us.

Like every thinking, feeling person in our society I am beyond horrified and outraged at the violence against women and children that has become so endemic in South Africa.  And Reeva certainly suffered a violent death, whether that violence was intentionally directed at her person or not.  For this I am deeply sad.  As a consequence her wise, courageous and intelligent voice has, to a large extent, been silenced.  It is left to others, some who do not necessarily have her best interests at heart, to deliver commentary on what her life and death means to those left behind.

So there you have it.  Beneath all the intrigue, drama and fascination remains just a deep, deep sorrow.  Sorrow for a South African hero whose life hangs in the balance, but is in tatters regardless of the outcome.  Sorrow for a beautiful woman whose life was abruptly, tragically and violently taken. And sorrow for all the many people whose lives will never be the same.  No "schadenfreude" here.

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