There are three things guaranteed to polarise South African society: race, politics (though it could be argued these two tend to be one and the same) and a national hero who falls from grace.
The suspicions, disbelief and sense of shock following Oscar Pistorius’ arrest for Reeva Steenkamp’s murder continue to reverberate throughout the world a week later. Not only because the Blade Runner was heralded as a uniting figure whose accomplishments instilled a sense of pride in Saffers of all colours and cultures, but because – darn garn it – he came across as an all-round good guy.
As details of the incident began to trickle and then pour in, people were quick to suggest his celebrity status would afford Pistorius special treatment once the investigation commenced, with some already declaring OP was set to become South Africa’s OJ (Simpson).
Now that the scales of justice have gone into full swing, however, if anything it’s precisely this prominence that’s proving to be a distinct disadvantage.
Suddenly all and sundry have leapt on to the racetrack, eager to rush at Oscar and peg him as the poster boy for their own cause. From women abuse to debates around gun control and the level of violent crime, the Paralympian abruptly finds himself the face of every social ill plaguing our not-so-rainbow nation.
That he’s yet to be found guilty is of seemingly little consequence in a world where those who so fervently cheered him on from the comfort of their couches a matter of months ago, are now just as vehemently branding him a gun-loving control freak with severe psychological shortcomings.
Even more perplexing is how certain local personalities were also quick to take up the baton and speak out against Oscar.
One would think their standing as fellow public figures who have themselves been subjected to instances of wrongful trial and execution by social media would afford them a little more prudence. Or, for that matter, objectivity. Particularly when their aspersions are prefaced with “I don’t know Oscar on a personal level, but…”
Oscar’s case is the very embodiment of the “media circus” concept. Only now, it’s not only the members of the press who are answerable for what’s increasingly become sensationalist, rather than fact-driven, reporting.
Every individual who has seen fit to position themselves as forensic expert, judge and juror because they hold some prepos- terous notion that knowing the name means they know the man, is equally accountable for fanning the wild fire of speculation as fact.
Pistorius may be a celebrity and the person Time Magazine hailed as “the very definition of global inspiration”. But he is first and foremost a human being who is facing the most defining moment of his existence.
The reality is two incredible lives were lost that bloody Valentine’s night. Regardless of the trial’s outcome, Oscar’s – as he and we knew it – is also over.
LARA DE MATOS