Guardian Africa Network
Guardian Africa Network

Oscar Pistorius, our flawed hero, has fallen

By Justice Malala

For us South Africans, and for many across the globe, it is impossible to watch Oscar Pistorius run without a stir of emotion, without wanting to break down and cry and shout with joy. Pistorius is no ordinary hero: he is that rare thing, a man with an almost-impossible narrative.

It is not a rags to riches story, a poor boy made good — we have many of those here and on the African continent. His story is more intense. To be without legs, and to become the epitome of excellence in the very field where you are not supposed to excel: that is the stuff of legends. That is why many of us here, when talking about Pistorius, take on the hyperbole of sportswriters. We like an impossible story.

And we loved him for it. We adored him. Black or white, athletics-loving or not, his was a story that inspired a country that is quick to cleave along racial lines. He shattered those barriers. He was just what he was: the Blade Runner, the hero. As a testament to his place in our psyche, on our roads massive billboards smiled down on us, reminding us of the man who had achieved the impossible. It is the stuff of goosebumps.

Those billboards were being pulled down on Thursday. Pistorius, hero, had gone from being a figure of sympathy in the morning — when stories went viral that the shooting of a woman at his house may have been a case of mistaken identity — to being accused of murder in the evening as police revealed there were reports of shouting at his house the evening before.

It is all too early to tell. The story changed by the hour over the day, and will continue to change as Pistorius makes a first appearance in court on Friday and investigations continue. We will not know whether he is guilty or innocent for some months yet.

What we do know is that a hero is fallen, and on Thursday you could see the effect of that on South Africa. Political animals like me forgot, for hours on end, that the president of the country was about to give his state of the nation address in the evening; lovers turned away from soppy Valentine’s Day celebrations. It was Oscar all the way.

Why, though? There have always been niggling, worrying features to Pistorius. At the London Olympics last year, when he behaved in an unsportsmanlike manner towards another athlete and shocked many, we were reminded of his flaws.

On Thursday, many were mining his Twitter account and past newspaper reports about him. There was the gun by the bedside and the rifle by the window seen by British journalists years ago. There was the tweet describing how he walked into his house, thought there was a burglar and went into “recon mode”. There was the drinking and the short temper.

In the morning, though, when the story first broke, there was no touching Pistorius. His model girlfriend — a sign of status among jock sportsmen — was coming in to give him a Valentine’s surprise, went the story. Many would not dare contemplate the alternative. It reminds one how we South Africans refused to believe that Hansie Cronje could be anything other than the gentleman cricketer so many thought he was.

In a country of very few heroes, particularly those who transcend the always-present colour line, we do not want them to flicker and die. So we clung to that narrative.

The truth, however, is that South Africa is a country of violence. We have often been labelled the “crime capital of the world”, and many like Pistorius own firearms, supposedly to protect themselves from burglars and robbers. Last week, the country was in mourning after a 17-year-old girl died after being gang-raped. It is who we are. Perhaps that is why we struggled to accept that “one of us” might have pulled the trigger — with tragic consequences.

Worse, he is not just one of us. When our Olympics team was in the doldrums at the Games, we knew one truth: Pistorius would redeem us. He ran his guts out, and did. Now he is fallen, and we are lost.

Justice Malala is a political analyst in Johannesburg. He was founding editor of South Africa’s ThisDay newspaper, publisher of the Sowetan and Sunday World, and Sunday Times correspondent in London and New York.


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    • Tofolux

      @Justice, I have always maintained that with your analysis when one scratches beneath the surface, there is nothing there. Can I ask you one question? What about Reeva Steenkamp? Where is she in all of what you have painted above? She died brutally and violently. That is the reality. So Justice, in all your niceties and glowing account, where is the reality of Reeva in everything you have painted? Also, can I ask a simple question, please? Would your account have been as glowing if it had been a famous ”black” person?

    • Peter Joffe

      Justice, all you say is true but one thing remains and that is, if you have a gun and you take it into your hand and point it at someone, where by mistaken identity, through a door or otherwise, the intention is to kill or maim. If it is self defense then you may have a defense but in this case, whether it was a case of domestic violence, or mistaken identity the crime is the same – murder. There may be mitigating circumstances in this case but the final judgments will be “Guilty of Murder” and the only hope for Oscar is that his sentence is less than forever.
      We are all hurt by this and our country is forever changed as are the lives of those close to Oscar and his late girlfriend.

    • Romy

      @Tolofux, I wonder where you get that comment from. Did you read the article? You have not understood it AT ALL. You should read again or maybe ask a matriculant to read and explain the intricacities of this writing. It is not a mere reporting of the facts that Justice has written here. He is attempting to describe the psyche of the nation and the deep desire that we yearn to have heroes. The fall of the then hero is just perceived as shock for the nation. By now people are going through the stages of grieving, denial at first but eventually there could be acceptance that our heroes are products and parts of our society.
      I don’t think Justice undermined the tragedy of the Steenkamp family. He just decided to focus on our fallen hero.
      By the way Oscar is presumed innocent until proven otherwise.

    • ntozakhona

      The tragedy has befallen Reeva Steenkamp, it is she we should be saluting, mourning and fighting women and child abuse in honour of her memory. Reeva Steenkamp, Anene Booysen – let us be ashamed of ourselves.

    • ntozakhona


      What makes you conclude that Pretorious is fallen and then say he is innocent? The Pistorious saga has exposed the psyche of the South African leisure class, they close rank to defend their evil deeds. I will not prejudge Pretorious, the law must take its course.

      The commercial media – the tool of the leisure class – jumped the gun and concoted the story that the petite Reeva was mistaken for a burglar and thus deserved four bullets to her beautiful body. Come on, the deafening sound of the first shot should have made her scream her lungs out. A burglar – the media has and the ruling class has been exposed once more for its duplicity after the Zille scandals.

    • Comrade Koos

      Thanks Justice Malala. Enjoyed your article.

    • REAList

      I’m a South African who left many years ago, when the evil apartheid monsters were in charge, and have become annually more ashamed of calling myself a Saffer.

      A colleague asked me about this today and, because I don’t own a TV, it came as a slight shock to me.

      Let me give you an outside perspective: when amoral criminals at all levels of leadership and government set the standard and example for the country, WHAT THE XXX … you expect??

      Fact is, it’s no different from every murder of innocents by barbaric, sub-human animals and rapists (as happened what? a week ago?) except for the world-wide fame and money.

      The African Disease……

    • Enough Said


      Tofolux regularly accuses people of harboring racial bias; “Would your account have been as glowing if it had been a famous ”black” person?”

      Maybe you would like to write an article analyzing this type of obsession in certain people at some stage.

    • REAList

      Justice mate – when I’m in SA I like to watch you on TV, and respect and agree with your opinions.

      BUT….when I’m in Joburg, I carry a 9 mil 24 hours a day. It sleeps under my pillow. It’s NOT to SUPPOSEDLY “protect me against burglars and robbers”, but against the most barbaric level of murderous criminality seen since….well you name it …. civilisation was established many centuries ago.

      Not in Africa, of course. Get real. Maybe 2000 years from now…..

      BTW I have this “hunch” that OP simply got caught up in a mixture of celebrity, wealth and african….uuuuh…..”culture”?

      Whatever…..violence aganist women.

      The African way. I can lecture you about places like Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Tanzania, Congo, Rwanda, Burundi, etc if you want……

      Ever been anywhere in Africa outside SA?

      Didn’t think so.

      I have, btw……

    • Brian B

      Justice, thank you for a very thoughtful well written piece.
      The psyche of the nation is seriously bruised by the horrendous violence perpetrated daily.
      Like Northern Ireland at the height of their conflict, and Israel and Palestine, we have become brutalised.
      This tragic incident is a symptom or a by product of a greater evil that is affecting the way people think and react..
      The seeds of the solution may lie within the fear and revulsion of ordinary people who must somehow re-establish their right to live safely by saying enough is enough and revolting against the status quo.

    • Stuart

      Could someone explain to a Brit why the police are going for murder straight off the bat? Here in England, I wouldn’t expect the murder charge to come so quickly without evidence of premeditation.
      As the case continues, more will come out, I’m sure, but why murder? If I wanted to ensure killing someone, I’d certainly not put a door between us, but if somebody threatens your property, shooting through the door fits the bill.
      Maybe it’s because I’m stupid, or because I’m English, but it just doesn’t make sense to me.

    • Percipient

      An excellent piece, thanks Justice!

    • impedimenta

      We lost a hero and a young woman died. So much to mourn.

    • Dinosaur

      Impedimenta, you got the order wrong: we lost a young woman – killed by someone who lost his hero status…

    • Truth be known

      Oscar Pistorius has employed a public relations company (spin doctors) over and above attorneys and others so we must keep that in mind when we read and hear opinions/information regarding this case.

      The best report of what probably happened I have seen so-far appeared in City Press newspaper front page today Sunday. They appear to have a good original source.

    • http://Yahoo Nwabie

      I fully agree with Justice. what a wonderfull account. We live in a dangerous country owning a gun has become a huge symbol of security, however it also presents dangers that we have witnesses globally. Loosing a young woman like Reeva is painful indeed. But I am afraid that what Oscar represents, the crime rate in our country and the love he enjoys from South Africans may blur the flaws inherent in this incident. For me personally it will be painful to admit that he was aware and that he committed murder intentional should the investigation suggest so. I wish this never happened.

    • baksteen


      I agree with your comment that there is nothing here below the niceties of this piece.

      And you make a good point about skin colour. It sucks, doesn’t it? But let’s not “draai doekies om” [pretend it’s not here].

      Many in jails now in our country are disabled, have been “tried” unfairly, and are pretty much fucked because they are poor and black and have no “legal team”.

      The convergence is an absolute culture shock for the likes of Oscar, Schaik and Selebi. And maybe our current president some day.

      So what now?

      Now we work towards being a kinder, fairer society. For every desperate, impoverished South African, there is another South African able to help.

    • Skumbuzo Mbhele

      and there goes Ntozakhona….somehow he got the Zille political angle in…….and his apardtheid press……mooi seun.

      Good article Justice.

      The reality is, we do have so few South African hero’s these days. We have good sportsmen, but so few real role models. As a result we pin ordinary people up as hero role models.
      Actually, if you read respected sports scientist Ross Tuckers article, there is no way that Pistorious should have been at the able body Olympics. He does get a decided advantage. Oscar scoured the world to find someone who would support his quest. we saw the signs long before last week, and as a country we chose to ignore them….and now we’re surprised.
      I am not overly interested in the trial. It will be a circus between two sets of legal groups, each trying to out-publiscize each other. The bottom line is, he shot a defenceless woman, and there is nothing that warrents that, nothing……no suspected burgler, nothing…..

    • too much….

      So another woman has been murdered and parents have lost a (only) child. I lost a daughter too, but at least I had the comfort of holding her hand in her final moments, and saying goodbye. They had no such luxury. They will not even be able to grieve in private. I wish, wish, wish, that for once in this this violence wracked country some one would have the balls to stand up, take responsibility for their actions and tell the truth. I wish they would scrape whatever dignity they have left together and apologise to the parents, the country and the world. Look us all in the eyes and say: “I did it and there is actually no excuse.” I am deeply, deeply sorry. I took away your son/daughter and nothing I can do will bring them back. But I have decided that the buck stops here and I am going to spend the rest of my life trying to make amends for the mess I made, first by acknowledging that I have serious problems to resolve and then by acknowledging that as a country we have serious problems to resolve. And I intend using whatever status I have to make the men of this nation aware of the need for us to look at other means of expressing their masculinity.” Perhaps then there would be some consolation – but instead, when such tragedies happen, everything is done to protect the perpetrators, more so when celebrity status is involved. But then I suppose it take more courage to be honest than it is to kill a woman.Babies, little girls young women, grannies – how many more?

    • The Creator

      No, we didn’t lose a hero, we discovered that the man who had purported to be a hero with the cooperation of the media wasn’t a hero, that’s all.

      I agree that the general focus of attention is wrong. A woman had her skull crushed with a cricket-bat and was then shot four times, and people are talking about how terrible it is that our perception of the man with the gun and club was a mistaken one.

      What is terrible is that someone was murdered. Not unusual, but terrible.

    • MLH

      @stuart: by now you will know that Riva was also beaten with a bat…the police knew more than we did and more than he told his father and sister.
      What stuns me most about this tragic incident is that it has emphasised that no woman in South Africa is safe: Anene Booysen, murdered foully only a matter of days before, was a far from wealthy young girl. Reeva Steenkamp appears to have lived a charmed life: good upbringing, education and lots of luck and opportunities to go with her good looks. Only the week before Anene’s also tragic death, politicians were stopped from paying tribute to poverty-stricken, but raped, grandmothers in KZN, too scared to leave their homes.
      All these incidents, so close together make one thing immensely clear: SA is no safe place for women and the powers that be don’t seem to give a damn!

    • ntozakhona


      Despite tour cheap pot shot, I agree with you on this one. At least you have not echoed the maste’s voice as usual.