Oscar Pistorius: Bling, beef and??guns

2014-05-11 15:00

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As South Africa, in election week, tuned in to watch the progress in Oscar Pistorius’ murder trial, my perception was that our society is experiencing an overall paroxysm of social aggression.

No population group is exempt from the psychological and physical violence arising from this general social tenor. What is truly shocking is that the victims often belong in the “vulnerable persons” category: women, children, the aged, the disabled, the socially marginalised and the isolated.

On average, 45 people are murdered each day in South Africa, of which about a third are children. A disconcertingly high percentage of those are toddlers or even infants.

Afrikaans men at breaking point

I’m a writer, and so I’m offering my personal insight and experience. My feeling is that a large percentage of South African men of whatever hue, class or political persuasion are suffering from extreme forms of stress.

In the higher-income groups of the politically “disempowered” white Afrikaans community, this amounts to vast reservoirs of underlying resentment, fear and anger.

The white male has nowhere to go with his obsolete patriarchal baggage except maybe to shooting ranges or rugby matches.

At best, this becomes manifest in a general attitude of suspicion, distrust, barely suppressed aggression and a readiness to defend bodily integrity by every means at hand. At worst, it flares up during incidents of road rage, tantrums and public fisticuffs or racist shooting sprees and family murders.

Shadow of a proto-fascist state

In the case of traditionally raised middle-class Afrikaners who were socially formed during apartheid, one must add to the mix the effects of living in the shadow of a proto-fascist state and a uniquely effective state church, the Dutch Reformed Church, inside a well-oiled educational propaganda machine.

It was these three ideological state apparatuses – a militarised police state, public school and national church – that inculcated racial superiority, God-sanctioned political dominance, male prowess and female self-abasement.

Through them, a type of psychologically unbalanced and immature individual was produced. This individual was morally weak, intellectually paralysed, deeply self-censured and easily dominated.

In men, this took the form of overbearing militarised machismo, of which the associated social practices upheld the white nationalist state’s values. In women, it led to a cringing masochistic subservience, exclusively bound to the hearth and the crib.

After the fall of apartheid, when these institutions and this machinery of social control fell apart, an emptiness assailed the hearts of many. There was nothing much to stop it except rabidly competitive, conspicuous consumerism – and yes, sport.

Bling, beef, jocks, chicks, guns and wheels – the spectacle of the high life became for many the only image of desired existence in post-apartheid South Africa.

These are the social contexts Pistorius grew up in, and in which he found himself hailed as the miracle boy who, through his own physical and mental efforts and punishing routines, overcame the worst of odds.

Add to that his precarious ambulant condition and an upbringing in a less than functional family. With the early loss of his mother and an absent father, he grew up under the adage: “never fail”. One could expect that, in spite of the huge international success, something would give at one point or another.

Van Niekerk is a writer and a professor at the department of Afrikaans and Dutch at Stellenbosch University. This piece first appeared in The Conversation (theconversation.com/au)

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