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Oscar, Reeva and the hypocrisy of popular activism

Violence against women is a moral-turned-physical plague, and it has bedridden South Africa. Our mothers, daughters, sisters, children and friends are sitting ducks. They are targets of the male ego. Violence against women is the patriarch’s last stand. He is gripping on to his illegitimate, undeserved “entitlements”. The howling storm of change brings with it real gender equality and this scares the patriarch. Recalcitrant, he retaliates with senseless violence. He must be defeated!

The story of Oscar Pistorius, the international sports star and national hero who killed his supermodel girlfriend on Valentine’s Day — the most romantic day of the year — is global news. In South Africa emotions are high. The fiery court of public opinion has decided on Oscar’s guilt. The people are calling for his head. Even a cabinet minister has joined the call for Oscar to be denied bail.

My concern is, however, that circumstance rather than fact has escalated the Oscar-Reeva case into one of domestic violence. The spate of gender activism and rage is possibly misplaced. While South Africa is consumed by the Oscar debacle, real instances of domestic violence are sneaking under the radar unnoticed.

Yes, logically there was an instance of “domestic violence”. Oscar and Reeva were in a domestic relationship. There is no question that Oscar shot and killed Reeva. All that is remaining is for the court to decide the question of “murder”, which legally speaking is different from “killing”.

The Oscar-Reeva case seems to indicate a violence of a different nature; a type of violence outside the concept of “domestic violence”.

According to Oscar, he woke up to close the sliding door. He did not switch on the lights. In that darkness, he heard a sound in the bathroom. He got his gun, screamed at the “intruder” and opened fire. It was when he shouted for Reeva to call the police that he realised she might have been the one in the bathroom. He says he did not have his prosthesis at the time of opening fire.

Whether Oscar’s story is true or false, none of us can say for sure. But we know that Oscar is paranoid and packed a pistol as a result. He reportedly also had a few other guns at home. His friends confirm his paranoia.

Now just humour me. Assume that Oscar did leave the bed to close the sliding door and he did not switch on the lights. Reeva woke up after him and hurried to the bathroom, also not switching on the lights. She locked the bathroom door behind her, this is the sound that Oscar heard. He got his gun and shouted, but Reeva does not answer because she did not expect him to shoot. She expected to get out of the toilet and say “you are so paranoid!”

The scenario is not far-fetched, it seems possible. The bullet trajectory evidence suggests that Reeva was seated on the toilet bowl at the time of shooting. The investigating officers have also testified that there were two unused iPhones in the bathroom, which suggests that Reeva did not attempt to call for help.

The alternative presents hard questions. What type of argument could have escalated so quickly to make Oscar give up on his successful sports career and stardom and opt instead for prison? In the eyes of family and friends, Reeva and Oscar were a happy couple.

Is it possible that our anger and activism is misplaced? Oscar as a young, successful male is the least likely perpetrator of gender-based violence. Reeva, as a young, educated woman, is the least likely victim of gender-based violence. Could it be that the current spate of gender violence activism is driven by South Africa’s disappointment with Oscar rather than genuine activism against gender-based violence? Is Reeva’s case a true reflection of the violent reality facing women on a daily basis?

I ask this because a man who kills his wife in a traffic accident driving drunk is distinguishable from a man who crushes his wife’s skull through a beating. The effect is the same but the conduct is very different.

The Oscar-Reeva tragedy happened at a time when South Africans were waking up to a reality of violence against women. Bizarrely, it was the Indian case of Jyoti Singh that got many South Africans up in arms. Not long after Anene Booysen reminded us of the realities in our own backyard.

A grave concern is that our long-overdue rage against gender-based violence might be directed at the wrong perpetrator. If Oscar was indeed a loving boyfriend who suffered from bad judgment and an adrenaline rush, real perpetrators are getting a free pass behind his shadow. Moreover, if this is the case, then this much-needed activism will die with Oscar’s court case.

If Reeva’s story is being told incorrectly, an injustice is being done to real victims of violence against women. While our society focuses on Oscar, possibly because of his profile, the accused in Anene’s mutilation case will sneak by unnoticed. The stories of Ge-Audrey Green — who was mutilated and stuffed into a drawer — will remain untold. Accused like Carlton Douw will sneak under the radar. Charmaine Mare will remain a ghost and Johannes de Jager who is accused of mutilating her will sneak by unnoticed, even though he has been a suspect twice. The stories of a pastor who allegedly raped a woman three times in a locked room will remain untold. The stories of a man who allegedly raped an impregnated his 12-year-old stepdaughter will be denied attention. No spotlight will shine on them.

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