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Pretoria - They didn’t tell anyone they were coming, but sat unassumingly in the back of court GD on the first day. They felt it was the right thing to do, to support a friend going through a difficult time.
“When he was competing we just turned up, now we are still just turning up,” said Sigridur Hanna Johannesdottir, a long-time friend of Oscar Pistorius from Iceland.
Johannesdottir has an eight-year-old grandson, Haflidi Hafthorsson, who has the same disability as Pistorius.
From a few days after he was born, she and her daughter, Ebba Gudny Gudmundsdottir, have shared dinners, letters and phone calls with the sports star.
Gudmundsdottir is certain of Pistorius’s innocence.
“Right away I knew that this happened the way he says. I am sure and I always will be,” said Gudmundsdottir.
At the end of a long week in court hearing testimony, Gudmundsdottir was in tears. She was exhausted. But none of it changed her mind.
“He (Pistorius) is perfect. I want to adopt him,” she said.
“I think because he is so well known they have maybe been too hard on him.”
Pistorius’s role in their lives started when Haflidi was just a 22-week-old foetus in his mother’s tummy and Pistorius was a photo on the fridge of a smiling young runner tasting glory in Athens.
“When I worried I looked at Oscar and I got peace,” says Johannesdottir.
She e-mailed him and so began the friendship, eight years ago. It led to dinners at home in Iceland and the family moving out to live in Stellenbosch for six months three years ago.
On Haflidi’s first day of school, Gudmundsdottir messaged Pistorius to say how nervous she was. He reassured her that everything would be fine. He gave Haflidi one of his gold medals from a race he won. He took off his legs at dinner to show the boy they were the same. “It changed him (Haflidi). He became more confident. He realised, Oh I’m not the only one. This guy who is racing is just like me,” said Gudmundsdottir.
And even when he rose to fame at the 2012 London Olympics, although the messages and e-mails were fewer, he always made time.
It’s difficult for Haflidi to balance when he is on his stumps, and so the family, from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, understand why Pistorius would feel vulnerable.
Haflidi likes to play without his legs when at home and comfortable with friends. But he can be cheeky in public.
“He loves to sit down (in public) and take off his feet and drop them,” she said.
“People try not to look. And then he smiles a mysterious smile.”
Gudmundsdottir said she takes the same attitude as the Pistorius family, that he should never be pitied.
“People feel sympathy. It comes from a good place but it’s not a good thing that he’s someone to pity.”
Even as a mother, there were times when she got this overwhelming feeling of sadness for her son that he would always be last on the sports field. But seeing Pistorius helped her push it away.
“There are a lot of personality similarities between him and Oscar,” Johannesdottir said.
The mother and daughter said the Paralympian has an enormous heart, is polite and caring and can always make you laugh.
Gudmundsdottir described Pistorius as a very proud South African. Always talking about the food and the people, always showing pictures of home.
Last week, Pistorius joked with family members that Gudmundsdottir had moved to South Africa because he had bragged about the place so much.
These are moments of happiness, when they see the old Pistorius through a haze of general distress and anxiety over the trial. They say that even though he is under enormous strain, he has to have the occasional joke in the company of friends.
For Gudmundsdottir and Johannesdottir as they sit in court, hearing testimony about aspects of Pistorius’s life they were never involved in, from people they have never met, they hang on to one important belief: “It (the trial) doesn’t change what we think. I have faith that he has done so many good things. We are not the only family he has helped,” Gudmundsdottir said.
“I have faith he will get it back now that he needs it.”