Let’s talk about Oscar

February 25, 2013

Last year, hee was a hero in South Africa and the rest of the world; he was hailed for medalling in the Olympics, despite being a double amputee. Now, he stands accused of premeditated murder, his sponsors have abandoned him, and he has only his family to comfort him when he sobs uncontrollably in court. But let’s talk about Oscar Pistorius. Who’s this guy?

Before you read on, I must warn that my views here are my own alone, I don’t know of anyone who shares them, so don’t blame anyone else. I should also state from the beginning that this is a very difficult subject and it should be handled delicately. If I fail to do so, I apologise in advance. I realise that there is a family, (probably two) hurting at the death of Reeva Steenkamp. Her family can’t explaine it, they knew Oscar, probably liked him before this time. His family also knew her and it is hoped that they liked her enough to mourn her loss, even if it’s overshadowed by what they feel for their own flesh and blood.

What most people have done is speak their minds, without recognizing how difficult it must be for all concerned. So, before I say anything else, I want to say straightaway that I wish I didn’t have to write this and add to the horrible publicity around both families. Both Oscar and Reeva Steenkampwere in the limelight before the shocking incident that we’re all talking about. Now, misery is heaped on publicity.

But I want to add a little to the great debate of whose fault is it that Oscar shot Reeva Steenkamp. Of course I don’t know either of them, all my conclusions are drawn from what I’ve read or heard and how I’ve applied them to what I know. Who is Oscar? We all know he’s a disabled athlete. Let me add that I think he’s a very driven person, driven more than most others by the need to succeed. He needs to prove something to people. He didn’t want to compete as a disabled athlete, so he decided to compete with nondisabled athletes; and he did well.

Why did he do that? Because many disabled people feel that they’re hidden in a corner, treated as though they lived in a ghetto. Oscar wanted to tell everyone that he should not be regarded first as disabled, then as a human. He wanted us all to know that it’s the other way around. He’s first and foremost a human being who just happens to have a disability.

I know that feeling too. I have emailed several people, (or spoken to them on the telephone), who didn’t know I was blind until the met me. I’ve observed their reaction on finding out that I’m blind. I secretly laughed, because I won the argument. They first saw me as a human when we spoke on the phone, then they realised that I’m blind. Suddenly, that took over all their considerations, but before then, I was just another person.

But this is a hard place, because it means that in their public and private lives, some disabled people constantly having to prove to others that they’re human first. I don’t know how it is in South Africa, but I know of Nigeria. Some of my blind friends are doing this all the time, even with their in-laws. I know of someone in particular who told me that his in-laws don’t think he’s capable of doing several of the cultural things that others are doing. He’s having to just do them, despite what they say, like “don’t worry, we’ll get (someone else) to do it”.
If I have to be honest, I’ll admit that there are things I cannot do as a blind person, but I hate to admit it, because of what it means to others. So, I fight harder to prove this to others. One of my greatest problems is reading printed information. In the UK, they come at you like missiles. If I hold a piece of paper, I don’t know if it’s a cheque for £1000 or a bill for £2000. How do I find out? Do I take the pile of letters to a friend, who’s busy sorting through his own papers? Do I keep them until the bailiffs come and seize my possessions, or until the cheque is no longer valid? One day, my pastor’s wife challenged me. She said everyone in my church longs to help me sort these problems, if only I’d tell them. So, I’m trying, but I still feel I’m imposing on them.

Tackling visual information makes me feel vulnerable, so I understood Oscar’s testimony, when he kept stressing that without his prosthetic limbs, he feels insecure. But let’s take this argument further. It’s unpleasant but true; some people take advantage of disability to hurt the vulnerable. I have a blind friend who was set upon by a group of people. They knew he couldn’t see them, so they’d silently approach him and hit him hard, then silently disappear. They did this for a while. Since I know this is possible, I’m careful when I move around, because I know I’m equally vulnerable to such an attack. I’m glad that I don’t have a gun, but if I sense that sort of danger, I do wave my stick in a menacing way. And would you blame me? Perhaps, some of the times I’ve felt insecure, nothing at all was going to happen to me. Would I take the risk though?

And if I felt so vulnerable about myself, what about if I felt responsible for someone else. I just explained that disabled people feel they have to prove that they can be responsible, even for members of their own family. If he feels that he has a duty as a man to be responsible for the girl he claims to love, how would he react if he perceives danger? If he failed to protect her, someone is bound to say that it was his disability that prevented him from fully protecting and defending her. I presume Reeva Steenkamp herself would not have thought that, when people are in love, there’s a bit of understanding, and sometimes, an appreciation of each other’s limitation. But others?

I’ve seen how this can affect actions. I once made my sister cry by accusing her of not trusting me to look after her daughter. Anyone who’s seen me and K girl, or even seen how my sister trusts me with her would know the cruelty of that accusation. She’s been visiting me alone since she was 5 years old. It was a rare error on my part, for which I’m still sorry. After she’d explained the facts to me, it became clear that she was reacting to circumstances that I wasn’t aware of, and that her actions were honest, probably even correct. But my reactions? Before and after that incident, K girl and I faced the bustle of UK cities together, hefting heavy suitcases, negotiating the journey from Lancaster to Manchester, Heathrow, or to some friends in East London. My sister never dreamt of saying someone else could handle her daughter through those situations. If after having my niece visit for that many years, I still felt the need to ask the question, what does that say of me?

In the light ofy own experiences, I interpreted Oscar Pistorius’ statements differently from the prosecution. He says he and his girlfriend love each other. I hope that is true. He says that they’d had a great evening, Again, I hope that is true. Then, as she slept, he left the room for the balcony, without his prosthetic limbs. I think that if he felthe’d disturb her by putting them on, nd if he only wanted to enjoy some fresh air, he’s entitled to leave his guard down sometimes. I’ve done it several times, though I won’t tell you how. He didn’t hear her leave the bed, it is possible that she woke up when he left the bedroom. He hears sounds in the bathroom, which he knows is not very secure because workmen have been there with a ladder. He’s thinking fast, probably not considering everything at this point. He knows he has to protect his girlfriend, and he’s not very mobile … That’s where the vulnerability kicks in. What happens after that is pretty confusing, even for Oscar. At this point, he says he called out to her but got no answer, but remember, he’s focussed, like any driven person on something. He knows how to focus and sometimes, that can block outside factors, or he wouldn’t have got those medals. He silently picks up his gun and heads for the locked bathroom. I’m not going to attempt to describe what happens next, but honestly, I’m glad I don’t have a gun, and I’m not placed in that situation.

The sad truth is that we can’t get Reeva Steenkamp’s version. For me, that’s more important than the prosecution’s views. They’re only working from clues, preconceptions of crime and duty to the state. Outside of those things, these are humans, and they react like humans do. Human emotion is difficult enough to decipher, because each person has an individual makeup which affects their own reactions. The prosecution does have to prove a case though, and having said my piece, I intend to remain silent until we hear the court’s verdict.

However, I can imagine that whatever the results, Oscar Pistorius will leave with his actions all the rest of his life. It’s not about the charge of premeditated murder or loss of sponsorships, it’s about the girlfriend he killed. Nobody is saying he’s killed before, so it’s safe to conclude he’s not a natural murderer. That means that taking another life will sit on his conscience, whether it was accidental or by design, and if it’s the life of the one you love? …