Shafinaaz Hassim
Shafinaaz Hassim

Theatre of terror at the trial of Oscar Pistorius

The trial of Oscar Pistorius has turned into a horror movie, bringing home the reality of an alleged femicide, and the trauma of crime in South Africa. In the hero’s tale, the villain brings conflict until the hero is able to resolve. State prosecutor Gerrie Nel has undertaken this heroism in the courtroom at the #OscarTrial by ending Wednesday’s hearing on the clear message: “I’m not going away, I’m (your worst nightmare) here to stay”, seeming quite keen to put his melodramatic, post-Shakespearian villain away, and inadvertently lending fervour to his role in the dramatisation of this case. He followed this up all through Thursday by carefully exposing inconsistencies in Pistorius’s statement and displaying his version as rather implausible and even impossible, in an effort to ascertain if this is a case of intentional femicide.

The trial has transformed into a spectator sport. It serves as a gruesome reminder of the brutal effects of femicide on society, played out in brutal, theatrical form for the world to see. And through the veil of brutal happenings at the periphery of our imagination, along with the case being presented we wonder: has an unfortunate lover unwittingly shot his beloved or is it the masterwork of a narcissistic madman after all, jealous, angered, evil?

Many have argued that living in a crime-ridden society means having to endure and internalise the regular trauma of potentially being violated in your home or being killed for your car or the money in your purse or pocket. We take the bait all too easily, internalising crime as a standard of our society. The life-sentencing last month of rapist and murderer of Zanele Khumalo and the extradition of Shrien Dewani, who faces murder charges, begin to draw new hope in the arena of justice for perpetrators of violence against women, particularly intimate partners, and will serve to vehemently dissuade the rhetoric that crime-ridden South Africa is the ideal setting for getting away with the “perfect” murder.

We watch in fascination and terror, from every media outlet and portal, for titbits of the trial, the news of the deceased Reeva Steenkamp’s bloodied images flouted into the courtroom, and the state prosecutors insistence that Pistorius is a liar, unwilling to take responsibility and that he should be brought to justice. The courtroom has transformed into a battlefield, almost as much guts spewn as in a gladiators arena or a bullfight. The sentiments are the same, the collective imagination is captivated by the presented cocktail of fascination, fear and fury.

And on display are two opponents, counsel for defence and the state. Both Nel and Barry Roux have proven to be formidable so much so, that social-media commentators are begging the question: who are you more afraid of, Nel or Roux? My curiosity further peaked, given the nature of their case, and the world watching from every angle, and nook, are they wont to perform in theatrical fashion for the cameras?

The dance of terror is a mechanism of theatre. There is no doubt. That we’ve gone so far as to put a price tag to it, is no great feat, nor is it a new phenomenon. The fear factor sells. What it does do is highlight to the world, the strengths and weaknesses of a justice system, bringing under scrutiny the potential to make or break confidence in the victims’ required justice and the perpetrators right to a fair trial without the drama that has thus far ensued.

But it is important to note that it has also become a powerful education for the audience, willing or passive, as to the inner workings of this system and what can be expected for assuming that we might easily sweep femicide under the burgeoning rug of crime over which we seemingly feel there is no immediate resolution.

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