(I first published this post in August 2013. We’ve since had the trial and by the time you read this, the last bit of the trial might be over. I am reporting this here because sentencing takes place today and I’m hoping in some small little way, I will contribute to some justice for Reeva, the victim.)
There are issues that I’ve avoided commenting on in my blog. The reason is mainly that they have not been resolved legally or because I deem them too sensitive for me to look at objectively. Today’s blog addresses one such issue.
On Valentine’s Day this year we woke up to the surreal(or unbelievable?) news that a top South African athlete had shot dead his girlfriend in a case of mistaken identity, thinking she was a burglar. It didn’t take long before we found out that the athlete concerned was the era-defining Paralympic and Olympic athlete, Oscar Pistorius. I was gobsmacked. No, not Oscar, he’s the brightest track star to have come out of our country in years.
His role in changing the face of athletics will be better appreciated in years to come when more disabled athletes take part in the regular Olympics competing against able-bodied athletes. The one person who played a major role in that becoming a reality is none other than Oscar, giving us more evidence that there is nothing more powerful than a determined human spirit. At the London Olympics, the biggest roars in the track and field events were reserved for Oscar and Usain Bolt, although I thought the decibels of the roars were just a notch higher for the Blade Runner. Because of my previously stated love for the underdog, I simply adored Oscar too. For all intents and purposes he was universally liked and loved. As with most celebrities, the majority of us felt we knew him.
Here’s an extract from a piece written by the the chief sports editor of The Star newspaper, Kevin McCallum, who, like most of us, thought he knew Oscar.
“….The Oscar I knew told me to feel free to walk around the house with photographer, Debbie Yazbek, who had been a colleague at The Star. We had both been asked by a British publication to do a piece on Oscar in the build-up to the Olympics in 2011. We needed colour and background. We walked into his bedroom, which was upstairs. Debbie spotted the pistol first. It was beside the bed, the barrel pointed towards us. It was a shock. I hate guns. I will not have one. In the army I was a good shot. I’d felt the surge of power that comes from firing a 9mm and an R5 automatic rifle on a range. It was addictive. Like the need for a drink. I know addiction. I have family and friends who flirt with it and dive into it. The addiction of firing a gun can be the worst of all.
I asked Oscar about it when we went downstairs, and the Oscar I knew told me that you “never know”. That loaded 9mm pistol was not the Oscar I know. I do not know if it is the weapon that took the life of Reeva Steenkamp. I suspect it is. It is all I have been able to think off since Thursday morning. The gun in the bedroom. The Oscar I knew would not kill a beautiful girl. That gun was not the Oscar I know. The Oscar I knew was not sure of me in Athens in 2004. Now I am not sure I ever knew him at all. (http://www.iol.co.za/sport/more-sport/where-is-the-oscar-i-knew-1.1471907#.UhcRussaySN)
His intentions, guilt or innocence are what the courts are going to decide on in March 2014. The focus of my piece here is not his guilt or innocence but on whether ‘I made a mistake’ is always acceptable. I also hope it does not come across as me standing in judgement, the aim here is to reflect on things that I feel the mainstream media have failed to cover.
There are situations and circumstances when making a mistake is not allowed. Period. That statement might smack of an unforgiving spirit, but please hear me out. The refrain “I made a mistake, I’m only human” has come to be so universally accepted that those who continue to interrogate a person’s intentions after declaring their humanness are looked at as vindictive. One of the places I have come to understand a person cannot make a mistake is in the maternity delivery room. The doctor on call is not allowed to drop the newly born baby and claim “I made a mistake, I’m only human”. You are not only human in that situation, you are a professional, who’s had years and years of training, so making a mistake is not allowed.
How about a pilot flying an Airbus carrying 200 passengers. Can they crash their plane or land so badly that people lose their lives, only to claim “I made a mistake, I’m only human”. I think not. I can see you right now, getting excited and saying to yourself, but what does this have to do with Oscar Pistorius mistaking Reeva Steenkamp for burglar and shooting her dead? He wasn’t a professional who “made a mistake” in the line of duty. He’s a human being who made a mistake, after all, “he’s only human”, I hear you say. Really?
In our country, we are required to apply for a license before we can own a firearm. In its very basic form, the law requires the owner of a firearm to acknowledge that the instrument that they own under that license has the ability to take away human life, the most sacred thing on earth. Which is why every gun owner undergoes tests and is trained by a professional in the handling of firearms. If, like Mr Pistorius, you can afford regular practice at the shooting range, as has been alleged in the papers and, then you move towards the professional status. His Twitter feed also carried twits suggesting that he spends quite a bit of time on the shooting range. Like the doctor in the delivery room and the Airbus pilot, as a gun owner, you need to attain a level of professionalism where the “I’m only human” refrain does not hold water anymore.
Maybe I’m looking or asking for too much. Maybe I’m too much of a dreamer, and my innermost wishes remain just that, wishes. In my world, that serene, quiet place where guns, violence and human suffering would not be allowed, if by chance, you committed the “mistake” of taking a life through a gun, the last thing I would be looking for from you is proving your innocence in a court of law. Very often, man-made judicial systems are only impartial to those who can afford the most expensive legal counsel.
In my world, I would be looking for remorse. My judge and jury would be trained not to look out for whether you intended to kill the victim or not but whether, in the aftermath, you recognized that the path that took you there was at fault. That guns take lives and are not to be left by the bed-side table simply because “you never know”. The judge would be looking at you and asking if you realize that 55 guns in one family is not normal, it’s scary.
In that world, the innocence of the alleged killer would be secondary to the devastation caused to the family of the victim. Bail, for me, would be linked to the general well-being of the victim’s family. A sudden, tragic death like that of Reeva Steenkamp’s destroys lives. I’m tempted to say I know what her mother is going through right now. That I know the emptiness she felt on her daughter’s birthday a few days ago. That i would understand if she went into a state of permanent depression. That the best thing Reeva’s dad may have wanted to hear, more than Oscar going to court on Reeva’s birthday are these words:
“I acknowledge that I didn’t understand the addictive nature of the power that a gun brings. That in my naivety I failed to realize that by being so blasé about guns I have deprived the Steenkamp family of the joy of watching their daughter grow, achieve things in her career and give them joy. The courts can determine whether or not I spend time in jail for what I did, but I want her family to know that now I know that guns kill and I took a life. I’m sorry. I also know that her family will never recover from this. They will simply learn to live with the pain, which can take years to happen. If it wasn’t for my misplaced love for guns, this would not have to happened.”
But we live in a real world, not in my world. In the ‘real world’ admissions like that would most probably cause people to call for your immediate imprisonment.
But here’s what the real world forget. I know Reeva has a brother. A brother who in the aftermath of her death may have felt he should have been there to protect her. That maybe, just maybe, if he had spoken to her on that fateful day she would have ended up somewhere else and her life spared. He might actually be wondering to himself, am I such a bad person that thoughts of avenging my sister’s death are crossing my mind, not understanding that the pain caused by knowing that your sweet little sister meeting such a violent end can cause you to think awful things.
You might be wondering how I know all of these feelings. I too lost a brother to a “mistaken identity” shooting. For six years I have been praying, hoping and wishing to hear just those words said to my family, especially my mom who was the worst hit by the tragic event. Unfortunately, Kavani’s death has not left anything but a trail of misery from which we are still struggling to recover.Time has taught us to live with the pain, but hardly a day goes by when I don’t look back and think to myself, guns do not fix anything, they just wreak havoc. Similarities between Reeva’s and Kavani’s deaths? Someone thought they could set the world right through the power of a gun. It’s a deceptive power that causes more destruction than harmony. Spread love.