Feature

South Africa: Pistorius on trial for murder

The trial of Oscar Pistorius has sparked a national conversation about “transparency and equality before the law.”

South Africa is indulging in “news porn,” said Adrian Ephraim in the Mail & Guardian (South Africa). The media have decided that the trial of Oscar Pistorius, accused of murder for shooting his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, on Valentine’s Day last year, is “the trial of the century,” akin to the trial of O.J. Simpson. Both accused were “professional sportsmen and heroes to sports fans”—Pistorius as a double amputee who ran on his prosthetic blades in the Olympics and Paralympics—and both were accused of killing the woman in their lives. Both trials are massive, televised spectacles; there’s even a cable channel dedicated 24/7 to the Pistorius case. But there’s a huge difference. While the Simpson case divided the U.S. along racial lines, “the Pistorius trial is doing something very different.” It has sparked a national conversation about “transparency and equality before the law.” It is showing that even a rich celebrity must face the justice system.

Don’t kid yourself—race is a crucial factor here, said Sandile Memela in The Sunday Independent (South Africa). We wouldn’t be watching the trial, and neither would the entire world, if the victim weren’t a pretty white girl. The media completely ignored a similar recent case of a black model being killed by her black boyfriend. “We should be screaming bloody prejudice, discrimination, unequal treatment, and racism.” Every year, some 2,500 South African women, the vast majority of them women of color, are killed by their lovers. “Who are they? Where do they come from? And why is their story not being told?”

At least this case is calling attention to the national scourge of violence against women, said A. Hawes in The Star (South Africa). Pistorius’s fate will be decided “by a judge known for her strong stance against domestic abuse.” Thokozile Masipa, only the second black woman to become a judge here, once sentenced a serial rapist to 252 years in prison, “the harshest possible penalty since South Africa abolished the death penalty.” And she does not hesitate to punish the powerful: She gave a policeman a life sentence for killing his wife during an argument. That said, the court still has to establish whether Pistorius was abusing his girlfriend or meant to kill her. He always slept with a loaded gun to guard against robbers, and he claims he thought an intruder was in the locked bathroom when he fired the shots that killed Steenkamp.

Frankly, this whole show is a spectacle for white people here and abroad, said Haji Mohamed Dawjee in the Mail & Guardian. Guess what? “There exists a large sum of the population who actually don’t care about how an entitled white guy shot his girlfriend.” The only people privileged enough to watch the trial on a special channel or follow along as journalists live-tweet the proceedings “are probably the very same ones who also live in security estates with garages filled with silver spoons.” Most South Africans, black South Africans, are too busy trying to get by to care what happens to Pistorius. “Don’t be fooled by bulletins and broadcasts that promise a nation is watching with bated breath. They’re not.”

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