The reaction that some of us had to Oscar Pistorius this year was perfectly normal. But then it wouldn't stop, and that annoyed me. Would this be a good time to confront you on the entire charade, and ask why this young man was lifted up in the first place?
The story of Oscar Pistorius is not new, as much as some may be tempted to seek signs of yet another uniquely South African story unfolding before the eyes of a frantically aroused press. There is a certain familiar pattern to it, isn’t there? Our tragically fallen hero and his stricken damsel are provided – how trendy of the hero and villain to grapple melodramatically within one character – and so is the wailing public. The police blunder and the magistrates frown for effect. And we, the baying press, are the never-ending presence.
The arrival of the world media was somehow not anticipated by the Pretoria magistrate’s court, resulting in squashed bodies and bruised toes, but the story was grabbed. Fantastic. Offices around the country went quiet so that everyone could hear the TV. Column inches were filled and though I did not attend church that weekend, I am fairly certain that Oscar featured strongly in the homilies of the day.
At some point it becomes unhealthy and has to stop. I’m wondering when that point will be for South Africa. I specifically refer to our slobbering love for Oscar Pistorius. We have all been moved, if not shocked, by the man’s actions on Valentine’s Day. I grant you that.
As I write this column, some months have passed and the story has evolved a little more. We are permitted to lend our opinions of Oscar the gravity of time now, aren’t we, and we can begin to discard some of the half-truths, untruths and blatant lies that have sprung forth.
The real trial hasn’t started, but in the court of public opinion, we have been asked to nail our colours to a mast. Yet the question of his guilt or innocence pales in comparison to the more pressing one: Why was I asked to give a shit in the first place? Why was anyone asked to care?
Let me be very clear. I have deep respect for Oscar’s physical ability. I was a middling athlete in my teens, so I have (ahem) a keener appreciation for human speed than the average trolley pusher out there. A thought I often have when this topic springs to mind: “If only we could figure out a way to preserve for posterity the bits of him that won those medals”.
But that isn’t that basis on which I was asked to interact with His Oscarness, was it? No. He was something else. He was an oke who overcame odds to come right, and all that stuff. MultiChoice compared him to the golden statue of the Academy Awards on advertising billboards before that idea was sheepishly scrapped.
This puts me out a bit. Maybe I’m jealous of a physically better man, but I’m saying this anyway. It’s bloody stupid that you make your children look up to sporting types as something to aspire to. The very idea! Even if every single athlete who went professional earned millions for many years, the percentage that eventually makes it is so tiny that it is not a realistic basis for the general population’s career ambitions.
My inbox has too many PR messages about Oscar, frankly. The latest says: “NOT A DAY PASSES THAT OSCAR DOES NOT MOURN FOR REEVA STATEMENT BY PISTORIUS FAMILY” and then proceeds to lecture angrily about his sorrowful daily routine. These have never been particularly welcome. The glut of Oscar stories everywhere soon made me realise that the public did not share my view.
Vice published an article on Oscar’s crazy fans that said: “If you make a joke about Chris Brown on social media, you can expect to get harassed by his deranged fan club, #teambreezy. The exact same bizarre thing will happen if you fuck around with South African sprinter/alleged murderer Oscar Pistorius. They call themselves Pistorians (really) and they come from England, Ireland, South Africa, Australia, and Brazil.”
Talk radio has revealed that the stupid teenagers of social media borrow their views from their parents.
It seems easy to scold these people for being so foolish. Didn’t we just repeat what we tried in 1994, only with worse results this time? I’ve sometimes stood before that garish statue inside the Nelson Mandela Square, wondering what the point of our hero worship is.
Are we that certain that we are unable to cope without a St. Oscar or St. Nelson?
Truth is, South Africa somehow gets along even as its heroes turn out to be revoltingly human. It just gets tiring to have to wait impatiently while some lumber along. You would have thought it would have been obvious by now that there is no such thing as safely delegating one’s moral compass to another entity.
Oscar was never my solid rock upon which I stood. I should not mourn him now that he is broken. Let’s mourn for the boy who crumbled after he had a country throw on him. But we can’t forget to ask ourselves just what the hell is wrong with us – why we needed Oscar like we did in the first place.
This isn’t a uniquely South African phenomenon, of course. But maybe here we could stop acting like any bit of our collective conscience is invested in the behaviour of sports stars. It never was, and we shouldn’t let the young ones in on that secret only after they learn to count. DM
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Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.
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