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Johannesburg – It started as a whisper and then turned into a roar, an almost incomprehensible avalanche of speculation rolling around a few simple facts. A girl had been shot and had died in the house of Oscar Pistorius. One life had been ended, another would never be the same again.
It was a morning of madness, when Twitter’s propensity to be a kangaroo court went into hysterical hyperdrive, when rumour became truth and truth was hard to find. It was a morning when Pistorius, perhaps the most famous South African sportsman of them all, divided the country he had done much to unite. At first they, we, all of us looked for an excuse to pardon Pistorius from the allegation that he had shot and killed Reeva Steenkamp, his girlfriend. He had thought she was a thief, they said, which sounded plausible in South Africa with its crime statistics. It was all just a horrible, tragic mistake.
But as the morning drew on, the mood changed, the tide turned against Pistorius. The trolls came crawling out from under the bridges, “legless” jokes about his disability were told, one by John Cleese, which came as a surprise from a man who should really know better. Tales of reports and emails from neighbours of Pistorius were added to the mix. There had been shouting, arguing and then shots fired. The police spokeswoman told journalists that there had been incidents of a “domestic” nature at the house of Pistorius in the past, a vague term that could refer to anything from loud music to domestic violence. They would not confirm that it was Pistorius who has been arrested, but said that they would oppose bail. A friend sent me a message: “It’s a clusterf*ck of a story. It doesn’t look good for Oscar.”
No matter how this turns out, nothing will ever be the same for Pistorius. His life is forever changed, the shadow of this tragedy will be with him forever. I do not know whether he is guilty or not. It is too early to tell, too soon to make predictions on the outcome of the legal proceedings that will follow.
It will be the biggest news story of the year, and the jokes, rumours, speculation and truth will continue to be jumbled up until one day we come to a conclusion.
Through it all, we should take the time to remember that a beautiful woman has died, a bright future has been snuffed out. I met her once, briefly, with Pistorius at the Virgin Active Sports Industry Awards last week. I chatted with Pistorius for a spell, then promised to call him this week for a story on his upcoming season. Steenkamp briefly smiled as I said goodbye. She’ll never smile again. A life has been lost, and that is the greatest tragedy of all.