Love me when I least deserve it ― that’s when I will need it most…
– Swedish Proverb –
Two nights ago, I stood in front of a couple of paintings of the ‘Blade Runner’, Olympic and Paralympian star Oscar Pistorius, created by an artist friend of mine. Apart from admiring her work and artistic skill, I also have tremendous respect and adoration for Oscar.
The reasons for my veneration, are obvious: he is a fellow South African and phenomenally has overcome a disability — being born without a fibula in both legs, resulting in his legs being amputated when he was 11 months old. He has done my home country proud when he reached the 400m semi-finals in the London 2012 Olympics. At the Paralympics he won silver in the T44 200m, gold in the 4×100 relay and gold in the T44 400m, setting a Paralympic record. His Olympic victories gave so much hope to a country torn with violence and corruption.
The news report continues, “South African police have arrested star sprinter Oscar Pistorius for allegedly shooting dead his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, at his home in Pretoria… Pistorius may have shot her after mistaking her for an intruder, but no details could be confirmed.”
Initial and unofficial reports suggested that this was a Valentine’s surprise that went horribly wrong. However, as the day progressed more sinister accusations were made and around 2pm, South African police confirmed that they charged the Olympic star with murder.
This is a tragic day for Pistorius and Reeva Steenkamp’s family and it highlights how unsafe most South Africans feel because of violent crimes. It resonates strongly with an incident in 2004, when Springbok rugby player Rudi Visagie shot dead his 19-year-old daughter after he mistakenly thought she was a robber trying to steal his car in the middle of the night.
Oscar lives in the high security estate, Silver Lakes in the city of Pretoria. Many affluent white South Africans own properties in estates like Silver Lakes as a result of the high crime rates and violent murders against white citizens of South Africa. This is a cold fact and a harsh reality for many, even though the South African media and government brush it aside as conspiracies and an exaggeration of a few ‘isolated’ incidents.
According to the South African Human Rights Commission, about 2500 white farmers have been killed since 1994. The truth is that those numbers are a meek, conservative, and laughable estimate. Countless more have been attacked in their homes and though some escape with their lives, these victims have all been subject to brutal torture.
The international organisation, Genocide Watch, who seeks to raise awareness and influence public policy concerning potential and actual genocide, currently places South Africa at level 6, classified as Preparation for Genocide. In a statement, they said “we have evidence of organized incitement to violence against white people“. They added that by 2001 “2.2 per cent of ethno-European (White) farmers had already been murdered and more than 12 per cent of these farmers had been attacked on their farms”. According to Genocide Watch, by December 2011 approximately 3,158 – 3,811 white farmers have been murdered in these attacks. Others estimate that the number of murders are closer to 20,000.
In 2005, friends of our family were tied up in their home and forced to watch while their father and grandfather was tortured to death. It happened in a neighbouring security estate from where Oscar Pistorius lives, called Woodlands Estate. A few years before that, one of my closest friends were ambushed in her driveway on the day she brought her new-born baby home. She was held at gunpoint, tied up for hours and threatened with rape and torture. She feared for her life and the safety of her child and gave the intruders all her cash and her car keys.
During my last visit to South Africa, in 2009, my boyfriend at the time and I stayed with friends who live on a small holding outside Johannesburg. On the first evening of our visit, as the sun started to set, the men took out their walky-talkies and guns and started to prepare for their daily patrol of the fences and gates that protect their properties. My boyfriend disappeared quietly to our room. Later, I found him on our bed, looking frightened and pale as he asked me: “What’s going on? Are we safe? Will we be alright?”
My reaction shocked me when I nonchalantly said: “Yes, we’re fine. They’re just patrolling the land and making sure that we are safe.”… For me it was normal. It’s Africa after all. For my Canadian boyfriend it was crazy and daunting. He was not used to living with the fear of being under attack every minute of every day.
As a result of these crimes, people are living on the edge and their fear is almost palpable. Women don’t drive around at night and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone walking in the streets during daytime. Houses are hidden behind 8 feet walls and heavily secured with alarms and barbed wire. Most households have at least one firearm as precaution and a necessary protection. It’s a way of life. One that very few people elsewhere in the world understand or empathize with.
The violence and murders were among the reasons why I left South Africa in 2004. Relocating to a different country was not an easy decision. Among my South African friends, I am known as someone who is proud of my mother tongue, Afrikaans, I love everything about the South African culture — our sharp sense of humour, our humility, our resilience, our can-do attitude, our food, our music, our wine, our beautiful landscapes and wildlife — and I am proud of the fact that we finally became an integrated society where black, white and coloured people are able to enjoy equal rights.
However, for the sake of my future, safety and personal ambitions it became necessary to leave behind everything I love.
When the news about Oscar Pistorius and this horrific incident eventually sunk in, I cried.
I cried for a man who is and will remain my hero, but who may have destroyed his life in the throes of a blackened emotional moment. I cried for a life lost and I cried for my country.
I have followed Oscar’s career closely and have read almost everything written about him. He has bravely overcome every obstacle in his life. He knows about adversity and about being triumphant. Very little is still known about what exactly happened at Oscar’s home in the earlier hours of this morning and my heart goes out to his and Reeva Steenkamp’s family. There is no doubt that this event will haunt him for the rest of his life. It saddens me that people and the media are already speculating that mistaking Reeva Steenkamp as a burglar, is an excuse Oscar made up for killing her in cold blood. The mind boggles.
By all accounts Oscar and Reeva Steenkamp had a good relationship. There have been no official reports of him being abusive or aggressive towards any of his previous girlfriends. In fact, just yesterday Reeva talked lovingly about her boyfriend and her anticipation for Valentine’s Day. Pistorius has never conducted himself in an abrasive or explosive manner in public. Is this the full picture of a man millions of people around the world admire?
It is difficult to think the worst of him. I struggle to jump on the social media bandwagon of right and wrong, judge and jury… this time I honestly don’t know what to say.
Most of my day will be spent trying to avoid insensitive jokes and inflammatory opinions that are already popping up on Facebook and Twitter. The first one I saw, read: This might be a shot in the dark, but it seems that romance is dead.
I’m sure the story will evolve over the coming days and I hope the truth will strike us as a relief… and if not, like a little boy, I want my hero to explain what went wrong.
Once the storm has passed and we all have clarity, perhaps Oscar will find a way to turn this tragedy around and use it positively to form part of his impeccable and already admirable legacy… advocating for change and the end of violence in a country that desperately needs it.
There’s a lesson in this for all of us. I hope…
I really do hope.
Images: Francois Lubbe, painting of Oscar Pistorius by Natalie Holland.
Text: FR Lubbe