Oscar Pistorius: SA’s man in the mirror

2014-03-23 10:00

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Scandals about white folk still cause more of a stir

In South Africa, it is inevitable that almost everything is politicised and racialised.

It is just the nature of our society and the reality of where we come from, and the Oscar Pistorius murder trial was never going to be an exception.

Over the past three weeks, the Paralympian has been characterised as a poor Afrikaner boy who made a regrettable mistake that resulted in the death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp.

In the world of these apologists, his actions were understandable. After all, South Africa is a society where innocent citizens (code for whites) are under siege by criminal elements (code for blacks).

Blame the ANC for it was on its watch South Africa degenerated into this crime-ridden society. Oscar and Reeva were both mere victims of this unsafe set of circumstances.

There is another school that does not want to understand why this case is garnering so much attention. To them, it is the case of a privileged white boy who killed a privileged white girl. That is the only reason the privileged (code for whites) in society are so gripped by it.

Does the Oscar Pistorius
trial frame
SA society as divided and yet-to-be transformed? Picture: Leon Sadiki/City Press

If the case of hip-hop star Jub Jub Maarohanye – who mowed down four black kids with his car a few years back – did not generate such hype, why should Pistorius’ trial have an entire TV channel dedicated to it and why should the trial dominate every front page?

This is clear proof that a white life is more valuable than a black life, they argue.

But those in this school conveniently ignore the fact that the case has gripped the whole nation and is as much the subject of conversation in a Mdantsane shisanyama as it is in a Zeerust kroeg.

Then there are those who look at the cast of actors inside the courtroom and see it as an obvious indication of how slowly transformation has taken place in some sectors of society over the past 20 years.

This school notes that besides Judge Thokozile Masipa and some of her assessors, blacks have played a peripheral role in this trial. They look at Gerrie Nel and Barry Roux, the drama’s main stars – or “amastarring”, as they would say in the townships.

They then look at the army of attorneys and junior counsels who line up behind them every day and notice only a sprinkling of black faces in those pews. The question that arises from this is: has the transformation of the legal profession been that slow?

The procession of witnesses continues this narrative. Understandably, the eyewitness and character accounts have been from the paler part of the population.

The murder took place in an upper-class, high-security cluster where most residents are from this race group and Pistorius moved in circles in which he was most comfortable. So it stands to reason neighbours, friends and acquaintances would be white.

But this fact does say a lot about wealth and how it has affected or not affected the demographics of some suburbs, and also about the way we still socialise.

When you get to the expert witnesses, it is again still largely the pale male who has stepped forward, indicating there is still some way to go before the profession can claim to be transformed.

The police witnesses also tell their own story. It tells you the bulk of the investigative expertise of the SA Police Service is the hands of Van Rensburgs, Van Stadens and Van de Nests, with the odd Mangena popping up.

This pattern did not stop in the courtroom. It stretched to the commentariat. Almost all the independent analysts who have a field day dissecting the case have been from one race group – from the lawyers and the forensic experts to the criminal behaviour analysts.

Oh, but there were some blacks who have played a role in this trial. There was the security guard from Pistorius’ complex. There have also been the interpreters and court orderlies.

And yes, there is Judge Thokozile Masipa and her assessors, the most senior people in the court. But the fact they are drops in an ocean of whiteness is something that should disturb South Africans in this 20th year of our democracy.

These are uncomfortable conversations but they are conversations taking place in different corners of society as the case unfolds. Some may be deemed misguided and racist, some may be deemed politically correct and some may be deemed too intellectual for a seemingly simple court case.

But they tell us what is playing out in the North Gauteng High Court is more than just a murder trial. It is South Africa holding up a mirror to herself.

We may not like what we see but unless we cover it up, we cannot hide from the reflection.

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