Oscar Pistorius: Angel. Devil

2014-04-20 15:00

It took 25 court days for me to catch a definite glimpse of the darker side of Oscar Pistorius.

Sitting in row two of the wood-panelled cocoon that is court GD, right behind the Steenkamp family bench, I must have watched Oscar Pistorius enter and leave the dock more than 100 times.

The complex maze of court benches and dividing panels means that Pistorius’ only way out is a gauntlet that runs right between the intimidating police investigating officers and the raw gaze of members of the Steenkamp and Myers families.

“Chilling eye contact with the accused” became a game I played with my neighbour, the Daily Maverick’s Rebecca Davis, who coined the phrase as a kind of sarcastic commentary on tabloid court reporting (I think).

From our vantage point behind the Steenkamp family, we watched closely to see who Pistorius would make “chilling eye contact” with as he passed.

The inherent idea, of course, is that a cold-blooded killer can freeze law-abiding citizens with a mere glance and look on the family of his victims remorselessly.

I was looking for the side of Pistorius that his former girlfriend Samantha Taylor alluded to when she told a newspaper that he wasn’t who people thought he was; the hero who inspired millions. The side of him that would cause him to shoot Reeva through a locked door.

Except I never saw it, really.

Dressed in well-fitting but plain, dark suits, Pistorius’ interactions in the family/police gauntlet in the first two weeks was reminiscent of a dog that has come to expect unkindness from people.

He approached people with trepidation.

When greeting somebody couldn’t be avoided, it was always with an apprehensive nod and tortured, inaudible words.

Mostly, he kept his eyes to the ground.

The first time I locked eyes with Pistorius was unsurprisingly not chilling.

He’d come through a side door that is spring-loaded during a recess when the court was almost completely empty.

Our eyes met and, seconds later, the door crashed shut behind him, causing him to wince apologetically, almost as if he’d dropped a collection plate in a church service.

This picture was not vaguely one of a trigger-happy zombie killer.

For some reason, this image has stuck with me, more so even than the traumatic scenes that unfolded when prosecutor Gerrie Nel confronted Pistorius with a bloody photo of Reeva Steenkamp’s head.

My colleague Marida Fitzpatrick wrote in the Afrikaans daily newspaper Beeld that Pistorius “het geskreeusnik”.

A rough translation of that would be, I guess, something halfway between a scream and a sob.

Witnessing Pistorius’ breakdown in person was harrowing. I went home that night feeling constantly on the verge of tears.

Three other journalists I spoke to said the same.

Does this mean I buy the argument that Pistorius is the victim of a monstrous prosecutor?

There have been two occasions when I thought I glimpsed a cruel, hard side to Pistorius.

The first was when Jesus-haired Darren Fresco was testifying. His wife, Beatrix, was watching from the Steenkamp side.

Pistorius greeted a friend sitting next to Beatrix, one who had obviously decided he was on the fence about Pistorius’ guilt despite sitting with the Steenkamps.

Pistorius then reached his hand out to greet Beatrix. She shied away, leaning into the person next to her.

Instead of walking away, Pistorius then reached further towards her, a curious kind of half-smile on his face.

The next day, as Roux extracted a concession from Fresco that it had in fact been him, and not Pistorius, who took a picture of the speedometer when they were travelling 260km/h on a highway, Pistorius turned around in the dock and stared straight at Beatrix.

It was far more than a lingering glance and it seemed vindictive and more than a bit creepy.

The second incident happened on Thursday, right after a relieved-looking Pistorius came off the witness stand.

He walked past Kim Myers, a friend of Reeva’s, who was chatting to Bennie van Staden, the police photographer.

The athlete shook his head contemptuously as he passed the pair.

As he left, he turned around to close the door behind him, locking eyes with Van Staden.

Pistorius’ face was a steely mask, but it was openly hostile.

The two incidents hint that there is something other than the humble hero to Pistorius.

Watching the kind of extreme binary reactions the Pistorius case has caused in supporters and haters, I was reminded of something American author John Steinbeck wrote: “It would be absurd if we did not understand both angels and devils, since we invented them.”

I can’t help but think that Pistorius is a lot of both.

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