I’m not saying he did it, or that he didn’t, what I am saying is that it’s sad and worrying that in the last week the biggest item of news in the media, in our tweets and on our minds is the Oscar Pistorius trial. Although it’s easy to understand why.
‘Paralympic Athlete Shoots and Kills Model Girlfriend on Valentine’s Day’- the story basically writes itself. If it was on DSTV’s Box Office, you’d order it- and so would I. And that’s because, without wanting to take anything away from the seriousness of a young woman’s shocking and untimely death, it’s the most entertaining and least frightening thing South Africans have had to deal with in a while.
On Monday, 5 miners- poor, unglamorous people working in unexciting, blue collar jobs- were shot and killed at Amplats following Union clashes. 5 People- dead. But we don’t know their names or the exact circumstances that each man died under. And we don’t really care that the catalyst for the conflict arose from Amplats announcement that they will not be able to save 14 000 miner’s jobs. We don’t really care about the impact on their lives, or the impact on our own economy as the mining industry implodes under the weight of hundreds of years of exploitation, not really. Not when there are celebrities on trial.
Ignoring for the moment her own, previously high-ranking involvement in the mining industry, Dr. Mamphele Ramphele also launched a new political party in the last week. Considering both Moody’s and the Auditor General’s mostly unfavourable judgements about the state of our nation, the corruption, the crime, the poverty, the neglect of our learners, and the increasingly frequent rate at which the current government blatantly insults, accuses, robs and abuses its citizens, we should be at least a little bit interested in the reforms she proposes- and how she proposes to achieve them. But the election’s still a long way away, right? The trial is happening right now– and it’s happening on every corner of the South African social landscape.
And then there are the rapes. With approximately 154 a day, one of the highest instances of child and baby rape (I choke back bile typing those words), and the occasional crime so shocking that we remember just how completely fucked up these statistics are, it’s clear that we have a major societal issue that’s going to require more than just wearing black on a Friday, or sharing a Facebook status if it’s ever going to be corrected. There are probably drug dealers in Mexico currently chopping off heads like they’re popping zits, watching the news from South Africa and thinking, ‘man, those people are fucking sick’. And you know what? They’re right. We are.
It’s human nature to latch on to the Pistorius case, because it’s like a long, local episode of Law and Order. And that show is fantastic.
We’re interested in every detail of this crime so far removed from the violent, brutal reality of the common, garden-variety South African murder, because( unless you are a close friend or family member of either the defendant or the victim) we know the outcome of this trial will never affect us. Oscar Pistorius isn’t going to break into our homes, rape and shoot us. He’s not going to build a giant compound with our tax money and he’s not going to steal textbooks from Limpopo students. This trial is the soap opera of the news at the moment and, shocked and disappointed though we may be, we relish the chance to indulge in the escapism that comes from following it while pretending that we’re just ‘interested in the news’.
Having our hard-earned tax money squandered, watching the youth who will inherit the county struggle by without the support they deserve, and hearing about another woman or child being brutalised- knowing that she could have been our mother, sister, best friend, girlfriend or wife- these are all things we cannot escape. The Pistorius trial is a roller coaster for those invested in watching, commenting and judging it. Each new fact is like an unexpected dip in the ride, causing another rush of excitement and adrenalin. But, whatever the outcome of the trial and whatever your own personal feelings about Oscar’s innocence or guilt, he is just one man and this is just one story and it, like all the others I mentioned earlier, will slip from the front page and from our consciousness as soon as it loses its ‘traction’.
Even as the Pistorius ride climbs towards its final plunge and inevitable conclusion, we would do well to remember that it will end, and when it does, all the stories, the realities that actually do affect us, will still be waiting.