Opinionista Ranjeni Munusamy 25 February 2013

Till death do us part

If Reeva Steenkamp were alive, she would still be in the whirlwind fairytale romance, wooed by a rich, handsome hero and dreaming of their happily ever after. Well that’s the narrative painted by Oscar Pistorius and his friends who claim the couple were deeply in love until fate stepped in, ironically on Valentine’s Day, resulting in Reeva’s death. A court of law will now have to assess the intricacies of their intimate relationship as cold hard facts. The problem with whirlwind romances is they tend to put human beings in altered states of mind. And what was in Reeva’s mind – and heart – will never be known.

Reeva Steenkamp’s “Joburg dad”, her best friend’s father whose home she lived in, has some interesting insights about the relationship between her and the world’s most famous Paralympian, Oscar Pistorius. In an interview carried in City Press, Cecil Myers recounts the relationship from the couple’s first date.

“She went with Oscar to a sports-awards evening. And after that he wouldn’t leave her alone. He kept pestering her, phoning and phoning and phoning her.

“Oscar was hasty and impatient and very moody – that’s my impression of him.

“She told me he pushed her a bit into a corner. She felt caged in. I told her I would talk to him. I told him not to force himself on her. Back off. He agreed, but his face showed me what he was thinking: ‘Oh, this guy is talking nonsense.’ He did cool down a bit. Then they started going out steadily, and she was more at his home.

“I once talked to her about Oscar’s moodiness. She didn’t answer me.”

This is quite at variance with the heady, rose-tinted version by Pistorius and his friends in affidavits presented during the bail hearing. In his sworn statement, Pistorius says: “We were deeply in love and I could not be happier. I know she felt the same way. She had given me a present for Valentine’s Day but asked me only to open it the next day.”

His friend, Justin Divaris, who introduced the couple, supports Pistorius’s version. “Oscar and Reeva really loved one another,” he says, adding that “they really complemented each other”.

Divaris’s girlfriend, Samantha Greyvenstein, says if Pistorius had asked Steenkamp to marry him, she would probably have said yes. “Reeva told me Oscar treated her like gold,” Greyvenstein said in her statement.

Myers, however, had a different impression: “I think she loved him, but it was no massive love affair.”

When the murder trial begins later this year, as part of constructing the full picture of what went on in Pistorius’s bedroom that Valentine’s morning, a judge will have to decide whose version is more believable. The person whose version is not known and cannot be tested is Reeva Steenkamp’s.

It is quite obvious that the chemistry between the two was instant on the day they met, and when they appeared together in public at the sport awards that night the common attraction was palpable. In all the interviews with Steenkamp, on that night and until a week before her death, she appeared enamoured with her boyfriend. But before a court of law, having to present sworn testimony about her relationship, who knows what she might have said.

The truth is that being in love makes people behave in strange and irrational ways. Human relations are generally complex but add to that the intoxication of romance and the overpowering desire for another person, and logic becomes misplaced. People take chances, they make compromises, they alter their behaviour and their beliefs when they are overcome by their emotions. Sometimes it is a roller-coaster ride of being hopelessly in love and being mesmerised by the attention on one day, to being terrified of obsession the next.

It could very well be that everyone’s versions of Steenkamp’s feelings for Pistorius are correct – that she was taken from the second she met him and cared deeply for him, but that she also had doubts and concerns. Anyone who has been in love with someone who is wrong for you knows the feeling – where you feel weak at the knees and yet fighting the nagging feeling that you should be running away. Many people make the wrong choice, either to stay or flee, which is why an entire section of the entertainment industry is built on heartbreak.

Love also increases a person’s tolerance threshold for bad behaviour, which is why so much abuse is undetected and unreported. Obsession and love are often mistaken for each other, and rage and overreaction are sometimes wrongly perceived as passion. Jealousy is always a wildcard, essential to a relationship, yet deadly if uncontrolled. Perspective is difficult to maintain and often it is only through the benefit of hindsight or distance that the flaws of your lover are apparent.

If ever you have been in a heated argument with someone you love, you know how close to the edge you can get, how easy it is to cross the line, how you can have an irrational desire to inflict pain for your own suffering. Crimes of passion happen when you cannot resist the urge to walk away.

Whatever Steenkamp’s true feelings were, and whatever the nature of her relationship was with Pistorius, she did not deserve to be shot dead. No one does. A court will have to assess the cold hard facts to decide what happened in that bedroom that night.

But if you ever had an Oscar, a person who swept you away and then took away your life – accidentally or intentionally – you would know that this is not a matter that the courts can understand.

Only your heart can. DM


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