What Are Friends For?


I have made a decision not to write anything on the guilt or innocence of Oscar Pistorius, the Blade Runner. There is a court in session to determine exactly that. I’m still fascinated though by aspects of his trial. This is a different sort of fascination to the one I had in the OJ Simpson trial in the 90’s. Pause. Yes I am that old. I remember the whole thing, ok! The kind of fascination that I had with that trial was purely based on race. It was difficult not to take sides back then because of the way everything was pitched. Anyways, my fascination with Oscar Pistorius’ trial is more to do with friendship.

We’ve had two of his ‘friends’ testify against him. His boxer buddy Kevin Lerena and his IT tech buddy Darren Fresco. This got me thinking, would a true friend take the stand against you? Look, before you rush into a moral justification of why ‘the truth’ is always your guide, please hear me out.

I think I’ve mentioned it before on this blog that our definition of friendship has become so shallow that we have an option to ‘unfriend’ people we call friends. That’s not the kind of friendship I’m referring to. I’m referring to the kind of friendship where loyalty still has a meaning. Where a friend is someone you call on when the brown stuff hits the fan. A friend who feels your pain when you hurt. Would they take the stand and say things that make you look bad. In other words, would a friend betray you?

Just so we are clear that we are on the same page, I want Justice for Reeva Steenkamp and her family too, so don’t get holier-than-thou with me screaming ‘I would testify against him too’. His two friends’ testimony had nothing to do with the events surrounding her death, theirs was a role in giving us a picture of the kind of life Oscar led off the TV cameras. And a pretty picture it wasn’t.

I’m one of those few creatures who watch certain movies until I know the dialogue word for word but still enjoy each viewing of the movie. Ok, so I’m not like you, we’ve established that. Goodfellas is one such movie for me. For some reason I find the loyalty that the Mafia show towards each other a thing to behold.

Henry Hill, played by Ray Liotta, the protagonist in Goodfellas narrates the story and tells you that one of the unwritten rules of loyalty is ‘a friend never rats on his friends. If you get caught, you take the rap and do the time’, see the accompanying screen grab from the movie. Granted, Mafia movies should never be our guides towards good moral behavior, but you have to admire the value that they attach to loyalty.

When Henry Hill is released from prison for the first time after doing time but never ratting on his friends, they throw him a party that made even me proud that he never ratted on his friends. But then again this is only a movie.

But listening to Darren Fresco and Kevin Lerena dishing out the goods on their ‘friend’ Oscar Pistorius made me wonder about the level or even type of friendship that they  must have shared. Ok, we can shoot bullets into the empty sky through the sunroof of a car together but look mate, if push comes to a shove, I’m gonna rat on you? Where’s the loyalty? This is not Goodfellas but damn, you would expect your buddy to offer a little resistance to the authorities.

Lest I sound like I approve of the alcohol and adrenalin-fueled kind of lifestyle that the Blade Runner and his friends allegedly led, let me hasten to add that I have always dreaded the possibility of being on the road when some crazy driver is doing 260km/h and taking photos of his speedometer at the same time.I say lock up anybody crazy enough to do that on a public road. But still, if you stayed in the speeding car, and enjoyed the ride, shame on you for selling out your partner-in-crime.

Ok, so you guys never had a pact, no blood bond or something  of the sort but spilling the beans on your buddy at the first available opportunity? Come on!

The OJ Simpson trial had all the elements of a courtroom drama, but rightly or wrongly, his buddies stuck by him. There is a quote that I remember reading from an interview with one of OJ’s friends and he said something that has stayed with me for a very long time. When asked why he had stuck by OJ even though he may have committed the most gruesome of crimes, brutally slaughtering two people by hand his answer was “if he did it, he is definitely going through the toughest time of his life, and what are friends for?”.

I have tried locating the source of that quote but that was way back in 1995 or 96 when I still read such esteemed magazines as GQ and FHM and others I won’t mention by name. These are the kind of publications you always had to justify to others by saying things like “seriously, I read them for the articles, I swear”, whilst at the same time avoiding anyone noticing you reading them. This is by way of explaining why I perhaps failed to locate the source of that OJ quote. But I digress, this was never about my questionable reading matter back in my early twenties. I’m reformed now!

I know, morally, if OJ and The Blade Runner did what they are accused of, they deserve the harshest judgement society can mete out, but maybe, just maybe, cases like these come along so society can take a good hard look at itself. Not passing judgement on Fresca and Lerena, but does betraying your friend not make you someone on whom we should pass judgement?

It is testament to the kind of life that Oscar led prior to the tragedy that he would attract like-minded friends, those who enjoy life in the fast lane. But surely even among those moment-by-moment friends there is some code of honour. What do they say again, that even rats deserting a sinking ship show more loyalty to each than certain ‘friends’ do to each other. With friends’ like Oscar’s, who needs enemies?

I know people get really worked up about things like this, they are sensitive issues. The OJ and Blade Runner trials I mean. This piece is by no way a reflection of the amount of empathy I have for both families, Oscar’s and Reeva’s. It’s only an attempt at extracting some lessons from a very gruesome event.

Perhaps the most difficult lesson for all of us to learn on friendship is that if your ‘friends’ will let you break the law and say nothing, allow you to live recklessly and say nothing, take the rap for you when you discharge a gun in a packed restaurant and let it pass as though you just stepped on someone’s toes by mistake, and still say nothing, then they are not your friends at all.

Like Judas, they are only waiting for an opportune moment for their true colours to show.

One wonderful reaction that I felt was truly genuine that I experienced when the tragedy first unfolded last year was a female church leader on the Sunday following the shooting. She said : “you know what, I wish I could come face-to-face with Oscar, hold both hands, look into his eyes and ask him, what went wrong my boy? I would hug him tight and ask him, what went wrong in your upbringing to such an extent that you grew up to love guns and violence so much?”

That’s what one of his ‘friends’ should have done long before we found ourselves where we are. That’s what friends should be for, to be by your side ‘forever more’ as Dione Warwick and friends told us way back when.


5 responses

  1. If The Truth Shall Set You Free, and if courts of law are determining guilt or innocence, then testifying in court helps a friend learn and correct. However, I sense that you, like me, see courts issuing punishment as “correction” instead of justice. They don’t move people into effective rehabilitation as a route to correction. They don’t isolate severely wounded people (who did severely bad things) into nurturing environments. Oscar’s friends testimony probably wasn’t about helping him.

    You’ll appreciate that someone asked me once how I can watch a movie more than once; after all, I already know the story. I answered, much like you probably would, that each time I watch it, I see more. I catch more meaning from the storyline. I see more details in the production design. It is like a painting: why do you look at a painting more than once, if you already know what it looks like? Likewise, isn’t it great to be able to replay court hearings and other significant events, like sports plays, to see deeper into their details, and to really digest them?

    I am struck by the impact of your line, “It is testament to the kind of life that Oscar led prior to the tragedy that he would attract like-minded friends.” I find myself wondering about his choice of friends and expectations of them. Would he have ratted on them? When you continued that Oscar’s 2 particular friends had been negligent as friends, then their ratting makes more sense. All the more reason to reassess who we have as friends.

    Some say, “he made his bed, now he has to lie in it.” I wonder if he had any way of knowing or guessing how to make a better bed. Who knows if his current bed is better than a previous one?

    Thanks for inspiring these thoughts.


    1. Weavergrace, thank you so much for continuing to weave your wonderful thoughts here, your ideas often make me take a whole new look at an idea I had only thought of in a one-sided manner. I had never thought of why people can never get tired of looking at art, because believe me, my movies are ART to me.

      Justice for Reeva should always be the motivating factor for anyone who takes the stand against Oscar Pistorius, but watching the trial I got the feeling that his friends only did it for the immunity that they were offered. The true test of their intentions would obviously have been taking the stand fully knowing that they might go to jail and refuse immunity because they were motivated by the truth. But then again, who wants to risk going to a place that only punishes and doesn’t rehabilitate.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I want you to go to your Dashboard>Settings>Sharing and turn on Comment Likes so I can Like yours 🙂 You describe the best of friends. May you always be one and have many.


      2. Thanks Grace, Nicely put and easily ‘done’.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Who knows – perhaps they are the kind of friends to him that he would have been to them. Having said that I still feel that if you’re called before a court of law the truth must be told, or we will be worse off as a society. You can stick by a friend who is in trouble and support them, but I would not tell lies even for a friend under those sort of circumstances, especially not in a murder trial. Let all the facts be out there, as much as it’s possible and then let the decision be made on whether he is guilty or not.

    Liked by 1 person

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