When even Pistorius himself seems not to understand what he’s been found guilty of, how can we expect the public to grasp it?
I met Reeva Steenkamp on two occasions and was asked to keep her company for a few hours at a party at a Sandton nightclub arranged by a magazine I used to work for. The party was to promote “brandy cocktails”, of all things, and Reeva told me she wasn’t drinking. She was the only one staying sober that night.
I remember her earnestness and concern about social issues. I can’t say I really “knew her”, but when news broke of her shooting in 2013 it left me genuinely shocked, because this was a human being I’d personally spent a number of hours talking to.
She had quite evidently been a well-loved person and a few of my magazine colleagues who knew her far better than me were beyond devastated.
Why mention this? Well, because it seems that her loss continues to get lost in the spell woven by Oscar and his legal and PR team. No matter how hard we try, the spotlight is always shone back on Oscar’s version of reality.
In his big TV interview, I was utterly sucked in and captivated by his narrative. To watch his agonised face filling the TV screen one was again made to doubt the now popular view that he probably killed her in a fit of jealous rage.
He just seems to believe it all so sincerely.
That should be the point we should all keep in mind though. The courts actually don’t say he’s lying. They actually accept every word he says. Despite all that, they still say he’s a murderer.
And they’re right.
The media has played a role in confusing the matter: I always feel a twinge of guilt when I see yet another news report among the many thousands out there that uses the sentence: “Pistorius was found to have murdered his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp…”
That’s simply not true. He was found guilty of murder, but of no one in particular. That it just so happened to be Reeva who died did not factor into the Supreme Court of Appeal’s finding when upgrading the verdict against Oscar to murder.
If we wanted to, as the media and society at large, remain perfectly accurate every time we reported on the Oscar case, we’d have to say: “Pistorius was found guilty of the foreseeable murder of a human being … and coincidentally, that human being turned out to be Reeva Steenkamp.”
Yes, that doesn’t sound very neat or appealing, but it’s technically accurate. It’s how the legal doctrine of dolus eventualis works and is applied.
It’s particularly not appealing because, again in doing so, Reeva and her death become an adjunct in the big drama of Oscar. It feels like we’re simply not paying her death the respect it deserves.
But the courts simply could not find enough evidence to declare that Oscar intentionally murdered Reeva. And that’s the simple fact, and one that Oscar himself apparently does not even understand. Towards the end of his interview, he told British journalist Mark Williams-Thomas that he would be “willing to go to prison for 10 years for the culpable homicide of Reeva, but not for her murder”.
Because he never intended to murder her, he said. But in that one sentence, he betrayed a complete lack of understanding of what it was that he was found guilty of.
The court made it clear that he didn’t need to know the identity of whoever he thought was behind that toilet door before he pulled the trigger an astounding four times (or, as he put it, that the shots somehow went off without him actually ascribing full agency to his own finger, attached to his own hand and arm, linked to his own brain, which initiated the pulling of that trigger four times).
No, Oscar just needed to be pretty sure that it was a person, any person, behind that door. That’s the irony Oscar didn’t acknowledge: that the many judges who’ve now looked at his case have accepted every word of what he said, be it truth or lie, despite Judge Thokozile Masipa calling him “a bad witness”. And on the basis of Oscar’s own version of events, the appeal court judges still declared him a murderer on appeal.
I guess we shouldn’t be too hard on Oscar or the general public for getting dolus eventualis wrong. Even high court judge Masipa got it wrong in her initial verdict by declaring him innocent of dolus eventualis “because he did not intend to kill Reeva Steenkamp”.
Fortunately, the appeal court judges did understand the law in its intricate entirety and rectified the error.
By now it would be reasonable to hope that Oscar may have figured out what he did wrong, even if dolus eventualis are the only two Latin words he ever learns.
And along with this glaring mistake, the thing that really got the public’s ire up this time was how Oscar dared to say: “If only Reeva could have said something, I wouldn’t have shot her.”
So now it’s her fault? Again, that was a distraction from the fact that he did something no one should do.
That’s the problem with this former sporting icon who was once everyone’s golden boy. He refuses to accept the reality that he is, by his own evidence, a murderer. A murderer of not Reeva, yes, but of any human being who may have been locked behind that toilet door.
He knew there was a person behind that door, and he’s never denied that, By the implication of own evidence, the person behind the door was not posing an imminent threat to his life – and yet he pulled the trigger anyway. We wouldn’t allow that kind of behaviour from anyone, normally. You can’t just go around shooting at noises in the dark.
The fact that he has a disability merely muddies the waters and he’s trying to milk it for all it’s worth. Again in his TV interview with Williams-Thomas, as he did in court, he moved around unsteadily on his stumps, like he was about to fall over.