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Peter King
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Smoke and mirrors

14 March 2014, 13:15

I must confess to having made up my mind about Oscar Pistorius’s guilt within a day or two of the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp.

This may not show me in a fair light to advocates of the noble principle of due process, but we all have our prejudices. As in the case of the coldly-calculating Shrien Dewani, I feel no burden of shame for my damning intuitions.  

My first impression of the scenario was that it was deeply incongruous – a view later bolstered by the killer’s own statement at his bail application. Here, he spun a yarn so flawed and unlikely that it must have had prosecutors everywhere licking their lips in anticipation of a juicy cross-examination, should the accused foolishly choose to testify in his own defence.

It all revolved around his assertion that he was so paralysed with fear that it did not occur to him to wake up his partner (or ascertain her whereabouts) before he popped a few hollow-point rounds through a locked toilet door in the wee hours of the morning.

Those of us who have experienced the misfortune of a criminal intrusion at night will know that the first thing one does is to wake the person sleeping next to you, rather than stumbling off into the darkness to identify and liquidate the source of a strange noise.

To me, nothing in the demeanour of Pistorius prior to his trial has suggested anything other than a man who knows exactly what he has done, but is determined to persevere with the charade of his own woundedness until the bitter end.

This has of course been an expertly-choreographed approach not fundamentally different to the strategy of the wife-killer Shrien Dewani: put on a hang-dog look; skip a few morning shaves; always look downwards; never, ever smile; and generally play the victim in an attempt to elicit public or prosecutorial sympathy.

In both cases, needless to say, the stakes are very high – not just the very real threat to their own long-term personal liberty, but also to the material interests that seem to loom large in the dark shadows of their respective motives.

A compelling motive for Dewani’s self-evidently loveless marriage lies in the cultural pressure exerted by a family in possession of a substantial business empire. The obligation to conform, to meet the expectations of those holding the purse-strings, to be or become something that you are not in a world that brooks no individual “otherness”, constituted a template of preordination from which Dewani saw no possible escape. Unless…

More difficult perhaps to understand is the mind of the narcissist Pistorius, although the possessive-chauvinist syndrome has appeared over the years to be quite a common default among South African men. The logic of ownership, of sexual or domestic objectification, commonly enforced with the threat of escalating degrees of physical violence, has led to countless cases of homicidal savagery against women and children in this country.   

It has finally taken the graphic testimony of a state pathologist to rattle the firm-jawed-stoic’s cage that Pistorius has managed to skulk in for months, to the point where he reportedly had to be given a moment to  “compose himself” before court proceedings continued.

The phrase “smoke and mirrors” is derived from a world of stagecraft that relies on illusion and sleight-of-hand to create false impressions. It aptly describes the defence strategy of the unlikeable browbeater counsel Barry Roux, who is trying manfully to cook up some reasonable doubt from the crumbs of Pistorius’s credibility.

For a fee of at least R20k every day, he has managed so far to share this pearl: Oscar screams like a woman.

Yeah, right. 

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