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Oscar’s battle with his body


oscar july 2

SAPA

Oscar Pistorius at the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria. Picture: Werner Beukes

Johannesburg - If the views of the able-bodied public could convict Oscar Pistorius, he would have been behind bars months ago.

The typical war cries involve his version not being the actions of a “reasonable man”. It makes no sense. He always wanted to be seen as abled, but now he wants to play on his disability.

But the body of the fallen bionic man, the Blade Runner, has always been a battlefield. Philosopher Michel Foucault said the body represented the “contested terrain over which political and personal struggles are fought”.

Possibly no one knows this better than Pistorius. His prosthetic legs were used to explain his alleged advantage on the track in 2008. Now they explain his alleged disadvantage in that darkened bathroom.

“There is a whole layer of meaning to the trial that has to do with his leglessness; there is no way that an able-bodied person can assume to understand literally or psychically,” said Professor Sarah Nuttall, director of the Wits Institute for Social and Economic Research.

That was one of the findings of the psychiatric report – that while Pistorius’s actions might not seem reasonable to the able-bodied person, they may have been reasonable given his circumstances.

But Nuttall cautions that the situation is highly complex, and determining how much society can or can’t understand of Pistorius’s experience is double-edged. On one hand, very few of us will be able to understand what it’s like to have parts of your limbs amputated at 11 months old.

But most of us have, or will have, the experience of our bodies failing us in some way. Age, illness or accidents can remove any of us from having that perfectly functional, normalised body. “Few bodies are fully able bodies, everybody has versions of disability,” said Nuttall.

Throughout their lives people will occupy many places on the continuum between abled and disabled.

“This enables large parts of the public to potentially understand what it may have been like for him to be in a disabled body,” said Nuttall.

And yet, with our current medical and social constructs of disability, a line can be drawn that separates the physical vulnerability of the disabled from the abled.

On Wednesday, defence witness Professor Wayne Derman went into the details of a World Health Organisation study which found that disabled people were 50 percent more likely to be victims of violence.

Jacques Lloyd, a disability consultant who is a quadriplegic himself, slipped from being seen as abled to being seen as disabled when he had a water skiing accident at university.

He said that he did not have proper function in his hands, but if he did he wouldn’t hesitate buying a gun.

“There is a tendency of people seeing persons with disabilities as a weaker target... but persons with disabilities do have that underlining fear of not being able to really defend themselves," he said.

Lloyd said in his experience disabled people were more anxious about crime and could over react, but that the able bodied were insensitive to their plight.

“Unfortunately, in this situation anxiety combines with that you are seen as a lesser of a person by other people,” he said. “You are seen as half a person.”

theresa.taylor@inl.co.za

The Star

Click here for IOL’s live blog about the Oscar trial.


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