Sarah Britten
Sarah Britten

Oscar: A South African tragedy

I first knew about it after seeing this tweet:

That’s how it usually happens, now, with news stories.

I felt ill. Like I’d been kicked in the gut. Partly because of the shock of it. Oscar Pistorius, of all people! Because an innocent person died, because it was an accident, because nobody should ever have to live with the knowledge that they are responsible for the death of someone they loved. Partly too because Oscar was our story, a hero who, for all his flaws, overcame the odds and exemplified the greatness of the human spirit.

He was a great South African brand, and now his story, and our part of it, lay in tatters. Because who shoots his girlfriend by mistake unless he lives in a country where the possibility of violent crime is ever-present? So my sadness was selfish, in a strange way. Madiba aside, he was one of the few things we have going for us at a time when the headlines revolve around names like Marikana and Anene, and now it seems we can’t have this either.

That Oscar was our good thing, a national treasure, has been echoed by the international media, who have trumpeted the sensational shock of it across their front pages. It scrolls ceaselessly across the 24-hour news screens. The residents of the gated estate where Oscar lives — a “compound” as Sky describes it — will have to get used to outside broadcast vans camping outside their gate. Oscar was a global celebrity, and this is as juicy as news gets. His legion of sponsors and advertisers must surely be in damage control mode; already the M-Net billboard I tweeted about this morning — how poignant it now seemed — has come down. Nike’s site couldn’t have been more unfortunate, carrying as it did this image:


That’s the public side of it. On the private side is Reeva Steenkamp’s family, who must now deal with their private grief through the lens of global public shock. There is also Oscar, whose mask slips with every revelation. The stories about his fascination with guns, past evidence of a temper, tweets like this one

and stories like this, which lists the weapons he kept in his room in a luxury home in a high security estate.

They didn’t matter so much before, because he was a hero and we wanted him to be perfect. But the story has changed, unimaginably. Once the South African hero, Oscar is now just another South African tragedy.

Tags: , , ,

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    • Martin

      It’s just too horrid. I have generally sat on my hands on this whole story, there’s been too much speculation, nonsense and insensitive jokes. There’s a tragic story within this story.

    • http://[email protected] warren

      Except that it’s worse than that. It no longer looks like that tweet of his was prescient. It’s more likely domestic violence. The taint is complete and oh so very South African.

    • Catherine Schulze

      Describes the feeling exactly. Such a brilliant article!

    • Jane

      Sarah, let’s not rush to this “mistaken for a burglar” thing. As a woman I want police to investigate this shooting fully and not guided by tweets and media. It’s just easy to shoot someone at home and cry “burglar.” Violence against women continues unabated around the world. That must stop. This is not time to be star-struck.

    • http://MG warren daries

      Was it an accident I ask you

    • http://N/A Jovy

      Athletes have flaws, Oscar isn’t the first and doesn’t have to be an exception. He does after all have a functional mind. This might seem insensitive but murder is murder. Funny how this story will unfold #waiting in anticipation just to witness the competence of SA’s justice system

    • Lisa

      It is a South African tragedy.

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    • Mark Lowe

      From 8am Thursday morning, when the Oscar Pistorius story first broke, I’ve been saying that I smelt a big fat smelly rat, that things didn’t quite add up…

      It gives me no pleasure to know I was right. I’ve never met Oscar, but I always liked him tremendously. Or what I saw of him. I admired him, respected him. Felt his burdens, shared his victories and defeats.

      Today is also about a personal tragedy and the bringing down of a national hero, inspiration and icon.

      There are no winners here. We are all flawed. We are all fallen angels.

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    • Tofolux

      Will the real Oscar please stand up?

    • Enough Said

      This is a tragedy that happens many times every day. This one has made the news headlines.

      Women getting shot by their spouses and partners.

      In one study I saw from the USA, 73% of women murdered by gun shot were killed by someone they knew using a hand gun, not by an intruder or someone hiding in a dark alley.

    • Sarah Britten

      I described it as an accident in the first section of this piece because that’s how I felt at the time. Clearly, as facts emerge, this is a lot more complicated and it’s looking more and more like murder. I’ll write again once the story resolves in a particular direction.

    • Robert

      Pop psycology maybe, but Oscar’s Jekyll and Hyde persona, arrogance and aggression may be as a consequence of his determination to not be seen as a victim

    • pete

      Simply another case of “Hero to Zero”. Why do we insist on placing people on pedestals when they are just human anyway. The fact that he was a superb athlete did not make him a god. Just like all humans, fully flawed, and notably, caring, intelligence and conscionable thought conspicuously absent as found in most of the hopeless breed called humanity. That trait we all have – the me,me,me, I, I, I…………etc……….

    • greatgodpan

      the only thing is the police have absolutly ruled out the intruder angle…… afraid it very much looks like cold blooded murder………..even more of a tragedy indeed……..absolutly terrible.

    • Musa

      When Jub Jub killed those kids in an accident, there was ‘public outrage’. Oscar murders (possibly in self defence) and there is great sympathy.

      What of the young lady slain? Lets think of her and her family first and the rest will be fully ventilated in court.

    • Tofolux

      My deepest sympathy to her family and friends.

      @Sarah, can I ask a simple question maybe? Noting from your reaction and the defensive nature of other reactions, would your reaction be the same if it had been a famous ”black” sportsman? I have noted the response in media and am taken aback at the sheer bias especially when a beautiful and successful woman died so brutally and so violently.

    • ‘whiteness’


      I don’t know why some people always have to bring race into it. I was as shocked when Michael Jacksons death was announced. Answer your question!

      Keeping the race thing alive is part of the divide and rule speak of a failing political party/leadership grasping at straws to keep their flock loyal.

      An excellent article to read on Thoughtleader is this one by Brad Cibane:

    • Peter Joffe

      When you take out your gun and point it at somone or something even if they are behind a door, you have the intent to kill and it is murder. In fact if the person behind the door had been a ‘burglar’ it would still be murder. This whole matter is dreadfully sad and how, in a moment of madness, one life is lost and another is forever destroyed. Oscar is not stupid but if this was a moment of rage then either way it is jail time. All that needs to be decided is for how long? The nation grieves as another ‘great’ falls.

    • katynomad

      This is not specifically South African: it’s a human tragedy writ large by Oscar’s well-deserved global fame.

    • bernpm

      @Tofolux: “…………. if it had been a famous ”black” sportsman?….”
      Would a black sportsman have missed the target?? In which case: “Lucky girl”

      All the makings of a sympathetic trial are being put in place: the judge, the same that helped Motata (clear case of drunken driving) on a years long trial) until he reached pension age at full salary?? Stories about shooting through the bathroom door?? reenforcing the “mistake” scenario…….We will wait and see.

      black/white??? Motata ws black JubJub was black. Common denominator?? They all had/have money.

    • Lesego

      Besides, burglary has happened in Silver Lakes and I dont think Oscar wears his artificial legs the whole time even around the house so those people asking whether he doesn’t keep his gun in the safe should use common sense, if hes home alone, famous as he is, i think he would be constantly on the look out, cos people like him actually deserve a body guard or two i think

    • Momma Cyndi

      My heart goes out to the Steenkamp family. I can’t even begin to imagine the level of devastation of losing a child, in any circumstances, but to have to go through it in the middle of this media jungle must be doubly horrific.

      Seldom have so many words been printed about so very few facts. A disturbing trend in the media lately and one that I am very uncomfortable with.

    • Momma Cyndi


      You mean like if maybe Ntini was accused or rape …….. oh, hold on, that happened.

      Sheesh dude, are you really so superficial that everything in your life goes no deeper than your epidermis?

    • Hameeda

      It’s a tragedy for sure. But justice must prevail. Oscar was human, humans make errors and sometimes the law is their to make sure we learn from our or other’s mistakes.

    • Jon Story

      @Tofolux: “…………. if it had been a famous ”black” sportsman?….”

      A devious question.

      If the answer is yes, she is humouring the black community, if no she will be a racist.

      But I suspect you have already made up your mind, hence the question. Talk about bias.

    • Sarah Britten

      @Tofolux Actually, I’d have felt that way about any celebrity or public figure I felt I knew, regardless of race or gender. The response to Oscar is partly a function of his fame. We feel we know famous people, even if they don’t know us from Adam.

    • Truth be known

      If anyone is following this closely, City Press have what appears to be pretty accurate information from a good source an what probably happened, with a few question marks still in the balance. – today’s edition – Sunday.

    • baksteen

      @pete “Why do we insist on placing people on pedestals when they are just human anyway.”

      Pete, this is a good question.

      I think the answer is because we desperately need role models. People who live “on the other shore”. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this at all. In fact, I think it’s essential to our growth as individuals and as society.

      I will use a personal example. I have a friend who takes the greatest care with every action she takes, every word she utters; and she does all this considering the effect on everyone involved. She is unselfish, caring, kind, sharp and very funny. She lives her life with dignity, integrity, honesty and an indescribable braveness. She is an exceptional mother and a loyal and beautiful friend. And… she is my role model. I’m 37 years old, and have learnt more from this one precious woman in less than 2 years than from the rest of my life. That is valuable.

      I don’t agree with the description of any of us being “just human”. From what I’ve experienced, being human brings with it the potential of unbelievable beauty and meaning.

    • Brian B

      Is the transformation of celebrities into commodities dehumanising ?

    • george orwell

      I see the Pistorius family has the funds to fly in the former editor of the UK Sun to do some ‘spin doctoring’ for the ‘Oscar” brand.

      Let’s hope SA journalists don’t fall for this spin and regurgitate it uncritically.

      At the end of the day, one can spin a story as much as one likes, but the bald facts remain. Someone had a gun in their hand and chose to pump four bullets into another person’s body. One of these persons was the perpetrator and the other was the victim.

      An old story of pathological jealousy, deep-seated insecurity about abandonment (possibly linked with loss of mother at crucial age 15) , excessive competitiveness with perceived rivals, a view of women as commodified possessions and regressive anger management issues.

      Just today, another such story plays out in the SA press (reported by IOL):

      “Sophia Europa told her daughter’s story.

      “A few months ago my 29-year-old daughter was abused by her 41-year-old boyfriend.

      “They were dating for four months and he was abusive, I encouraged her to leave him. One evening, a friend of hers called to say she heard shouts and screams coming from her place.”

      “The boyfriend said if he couldn’t have her, no one else could have her.

      “Malvern de Bruyn, a facilitator for the Department of Community Safety, said violence could be stopped through knowledge and power.

      “Ending violence against women and children is one of my key objectives,” she said.

    • Tofolux

      @Sarah thank you for yr explanation. Unfortunately it holds no water and let me put it to you that the tragedy is the fact that a dangerous individual was imposed on society by some who used fancy branding and imaging. I say this against the background that there are indications that there were issues of abuse and violence against women. The question must be raised, is society being misled by image-makers and spin doctors? Any person in any abusive relationship will tell you of the impending warning signs or red-flags that leads up to an attack and any woman at the receiving end of the attack will tell you that they do not enter an abusive relationship knowing that their lives will be in danger. And this is the irony, we have seen the most heinous crimes committed against women and yet what we have here is so inconsistent and irresponsible. The level of violence against women is absolutely terrible. And yet, we see this jump to defend someone who is accused of not only shooting a woman but beating her up for hours before shooting her. Not what about that information doesnt hit home that we are faced with the possibility of an individual who is not only highly dangerous but poses a problem in the very society he exists? The inconsistent message of defence and the attemot to protect his image is abysmal. It takes us backwards becos it says that some are innocent until proven guilty and other are just guilty. Where is the balance in the objectivity especially now?

    • Enough Said


      Your post of February 18, 2013 at 9:11 am:

      You should write your own blogs rather than write such incoherent nonsensical irrelevant comments about others well written articles and blogs.

    • Sarah Britten

      @Tofolux nobody here – not you, not me – is in a position to pass judgment on his guilt or otherwise. Only the judge can do that. As for whether he was dangerous, or gave an indication he was dangerous, we’ll only know once the facts come out. If the media don’t report on things, it’s often because nobody tells them, and like many of us, Oscar seems to have been good at presenting himself in a particular light.

      But you do raise a good point because the reason we look the other way is simple: we like winners. Whether we’re talking sport or business or the job of being a celebrity, we like people who are good at what they do, and we forgive their faults. This is true not just of South Africa, but any country around the world.

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