The tragedy of the Blade Runner and Reeva

2014-05-03 00:00

I HAVE been reluctant to write about the Oscar Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp tragedy, for the obvious reason that this is a story that has occupied countless hours in homes, bars and restaurants — as well as, from my own experience, on beaches and golf courses — all over South Africa.

It is a story that is close to saturation point but one that is far from over. The case resumes this Monday with Pistorius very much on the back blade.

It ranks with the fall from grace and untimely death of Hansie Cronje as a genuine sport-related tragedy.

Whatever our views about Pistorius himself, one cannot but be moved by the death of a lovely young woman and the collapsed destiny of an iconic sport hero in his early 20s.

I am told that the evenings of the successful London Paralympics in 2012 were organised round the schedule of Pistorius. When he ran, it was always the last event of the evening to ensure that the house remained full. On the final night of these games, the last event was the men’s 400 metres.

When the announcer started to call the name of the runner in lane four, he got no further than “In lane …” before the roar of the crowd drowned out his words and continued for minutes. Pistorius was the personality that everyone admired and wanted to see.

Like Cronje, Pistorius’s world was one of first-class travel, international adulation and awash with money pouring out of sponsorships, appearance fees, corporate entertainment and all the other avenues of profit that eases the life of an uber celebrity. It appeared that nothing could go wrong.

A golden future beckoned Pistorius, just as it did for Cronje. Sport has been full of those whose lives have disintegrated.

For some, such as George Best, the decline was slow, anticipated and inexorable. For others, the fall was swift and brutal.

Whatever happens in that court room in Pretoria, it seems unlikely that Pistorius has any chance of resuming the life he enjoyed before that awful morning when his actions ended the dreams of Steenkamp.

There have been some things in Pistorius’s trial that are difficult to understand.

Apart from the death of Steenkamp, Pistorius has been charged with a number of unrelated offences that were designed by the State to illustrate that he was reckless when in possession of a firearm. None of these offences carries a serious penalty. Had he pleaded guilty, he would have been fined several thousand rands and given a ban on the use of firearms.

For a man who has said in court that he never wants to hold another gun, this would have been a small price to pay for getting these offences out of the way.

From the evidence that the court has heard thus far, his legal team will have problems in disposing of these minor charges, which have all been corroborated by independent witnesses.

As it is, the failure of the defence to get rid of these charges has opened the way for the State to contend that Pistorius is not only to be mistrusted with firearms, but will lie to avoid taking responsibility for his actions.

A Glock pistol, which was the weapon involved in the Tasha’s restaurant incident, does not just go off. The trigger requires a double pull before the weapon can fire. Pistorius’s contention that it “just went off” is not believable.

What reason could two witnesses have for manufacturing a story that Pistorius fired a pistol through the sun roof of a car? Surely, as former friends of his, they could not be so malicious as to want to deepen his already perilous predicament. Pistorius’s counsel seemed to suggest that this unlikely interpretation of their evidence might be the case because of his suggestion that, on the day following the alleged incident, he was playing golf at St Andrews. Will evidence to support this story be forthcoming in the next few weeks?

The failure to admit guilt on these minor charges has allowed the State to build its case that Pistorius is a man who is psychologically incapable of taking responsibility for his actions, who will lie to escape that responsibility.

It also strained one’s credibility to hear Pistorius saying that he never intended to shoot anyone. He fired four shots at a lavatory door in the belief that someone was behind it. His defence has always been that he had feared for the lives of both Steenkamp and himself, and the fear that an intruder was in his home had reduced him to a state of panic in which all reason escaped him. He fired the shots in the mistaken belief that their lives were threatened. So far so good, but why then should he confuse the issue by saying he had not, in fact, intended to shoot?

He appeared to suggest, a la Tasha’s, that the gun just went off in the agony of the moment.

It seemed a foolish attempt by Pistorius to evade the lesser verdict of culpable homicide, which might or might not carry a prison sentence. It has given Gerrie Nel a chance to reinforce his claim that Pistorius will not take responsibility for his actions and is not to be believed. From what we have of Nel, it is unwise to give him anything.

Much of the defence’s case remains to be heard, but Pistorius’s legal team must have been dismayed by his performance in the witness box.

It is a tenet of cross examination that the accused give short precise answers instead of the long gratuitous explanations offered by Pistorius, which tend to muddy a defence.

My own view is that the best Pistorius can now hope for is a verdict of culpable homicide with a prison sentence of which half is suspended on condition that he is not convicted of any offence involving firearms.

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