Pistorius "was re-enacting one strand of his nation’s cruellest past."
December 3, 2015 10:03 AM   Subscribe

"[If] his story were true – and even if it were not – the faceless intruder of his imagination had to have had a black face." Jacqueline Rose carefully disentangles the threads of gender, disability, and race (yes, race) in the Oscar Pistorius trial.
posted by Amberlyza (16 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Related: Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been found guilty of murder after a South African appeals court overturned an earlier manslaughter verdict. [BBC.com]
Pistorius killed his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp in February 2013 after shooting four times through a locked toilet door. He is currently under house arrest after spending one year of his original five-year sentence in jail. Pistorius will have to return to court to be re-sentenced, for murder. South Africa's Supreme Court of Appeal ruled that the lower court did not correctly apply the rule of dolus eventualis - whether Pistorius knew that a death would be a likely result of his actions. The minimum sentence for murder in South Africa is 15 years, but judges can apply some discretion.
posted by Fizz at 10:14 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is a truly amazing article. Still reading and absorbing, but wow. Thank you for posting.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:22 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

South Africa, like the U.S., has a history of violence, guns, black versus white hatred.
posted by Postroad at 10:27 AM on December 3, 2015

I can't get past my burning sense of anger over this whole event. There has always been talk in the world of runners about the actual advantage Pistorius' disability, because of his use of "blades," gave him in races. Then, most centrally for me, there is the classic domestic violence background of this story -- the controlling, jealous man whose beautiful girlfriend was just about to make it big on her own when somehow he "accidentally" shot her in an adjoining bathroom with one of the guns he liked to use as toys. She and her family have never seen justice. Even the appellate court ruling says that Pistorius should have been convicted no matter who he thought was behind that bathroom door, not that this was in fact a deliberate killing of a sweet and lovely human being by her boyfriend. And then of course there is the hugely racist setting of this case. Pistorius lives in a white community in a mostly Black country, and his defense in this case was geared around racist fears of Blacks.

I'm steaming again. Must go do something else for awhile.
posted by bearwife at 10:32 AM on December 3, 2015 [7 favorites]

Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius has been found guilty of murder after a South African appeals court overturned an earlier manslaughter verdict.

Is this sort of thing commonplace? An appeals court upgrading a sentence?
posted by Etrigan at 10:34 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

Simply a gun nut - firing in a restaurant, out of the sunroof of a car, stockpiling ammunition of dubious legality...
posted by colie at 10:38 AM on December 3, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's so much more to this than just "Well, he was a gun nut.
Every four minutes in South Africa a woman or a girl – often a teenager, sometimes a child – is reported raped and every eight hours a woman is killed by her partner. The phenomenon has a name in South Africa: ‘intimate femicide’, or, as the journalist and crime writer Margie Orford calls the repeated killing of women across the country, ‘serial femicide’. On 2 February 2013, less than two weeks before Reeva Steenkamp was killed, a 17-year-old girl, Anene Booysen, was raped and murdered in Western Cape. When the two deaths are mentioned together it is mostly in terms of the cruel disparity between the neglected black woman’s body and that of her glamorous white counterpart. Steenkamp saw things rather differently. For her, violence against women knew no racial bounds...
‘It is,’ she wrote in an article for South Africa’s Sunday Times, ‘the threatening body, nameless and faceless, of an armed and dangerous black intruder … the contemporary version of the laager’; it is ‘nothing more than the reclaiming of the old white fear of the swart gevaar’ – the black peril. For Orford, there is something profoundly amiss – morally, for sure, and perhaps legally – if this is Pistorius’s main defence. ‘If Pistorius was not shooting to kill the woman with whom he had just been sharing a bed,’ she continues, ‘those four bullets indicate that there is still no middle ground. Because whoever Pistorius thought was behind that door, firing at such close range meant that when he finished there would be a body on that bathroom floor.’ A Bantu in the bathroom. Or to elaborate McKaiser’s point: in the white racist imagination, the only Bantu permitted in a white bathroom is a Bantu who is dead. Depending on how you look at it, the killing of Reeva Steenkamp was either a sex crime or a race crime.
There is a politics of water and there is a politics of shit. In the black township of Alexandra, where there was no sewage, residents had to leave their shit outside their doors every night for collection (the basis of a protest poem by Wally Serote – ‘What’s in This Black “Shit”?’). All the more remarkable, then, as Gevisser observes, were those who carried their anti-apartheid struggle not just into the privacy of their homes, but into the water, allowing bodies to swim, touch and mix against the brute, squeamish hand of the law. There was Bram Fischer’s pool on Beaumont Street, legendary for its parties of blacks and whites, photographed lovingly by Drum magazine in the 1960s, when Fischer was presenting the concluding arguments in the famous Treason Trial of 156 members of the ANC. And the home offered by one of Gevisser’s acquaintances, Roger, and his black lover, for the use of interracial gays, a house protected from the prying eyes of the law by soaring cypresses, where the bath was always filled so you could wash off someone else’s bodily fluids if there was a raid. The Pistorius trial, Gevisser writes, ‘coursed through the electoral season like a foul river carrying the country’s legacies of fear and violence on its currents’.
‘The dark hole in the floor,’ Rebecca West observed of a toilet in old Serbia on her extraordinary 1930s journey through Yugoslavia, ‘made it seem as if dung, having been expelled by man, had set itself up as a new and hostile and magically powerful element that could cover the whole earth.’ Expelling dirt is as self-defeating as it is murderous. Someone – a race, a sex – has to take the rap.
posted by ChuraChura at 10:43 AM on December 3, 2015 [8 favorites]

the article is very, very good. even if you think you know everything about this case, you should still read it.
posted by nadawi at 10:45 AM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

The comments are good too:

Images of Oscar Pistorius’s tattoo of Corinthians 9:27 reveal that Jacqueline Rose has hobbled her inferences about his character by misquoting a key word: it reads not ‘I execute each stride with intent’ but ‘I execute each strike with intent.’

Iain Bamforth

posted by bonobothegreat at 11:04 AM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Jacqueline Rose is a real treasure. She is simply amazing!
posted by OmieWise at 11:05 AM on December 3, 2015

Etrigan: "Is this sort of thing commonplace? An appeals court upgrading a sentence?"

A few of my Facebook friends were chatting about this (including a few experts on African law and policy), and their consensus seems to be that South Africa's legal system is really, really weird, in contrast to virtually any other system used today.

In particular, the legal principles that allowed this to happen seem to be rooted in Dutch colonial law, which was in turn rooted in the legal system of the Roman Empire (yes, that Roman Empire).

The Netherlands moved away from this system several hundred years ago, but for some reason, it stuck around in South Africa.
posted by schmod at 11:31 AM on December 3, 2015 [3 favorites]

Good piece, thank you. I still find the original outcome of the the Pistorious trial grotesque; such a powerful example of privilege and its execution. I'm glad to see Rose calling out the race and gender stuff.

I enjoyed this piece from a South African comedian that played on one of our Australian shows.
posted by smoke at 3:37 PM on December 3, 2015

Wonderful essay, thank you so much.
posted by TenaciousB at 4:58 PM on December 3, 2015

Is this sort of thing commonplace? An appeals court upgrading a sentence?

According to the NYT about the Pistorius case, South Africa's appeals court justices "routinely overturn verdicts or sentences handed down in a lower court." It's a thing. Here's the NYT article.

I'm neither South African or a lawyer, and this case has fascinated me from the start, because it parallels American racial fears ("the intruder" who is always non-white to a white POV) with the same solutions (guns!) as well as the domestic violence aspect.

I feel justice was better served by a murder conviction, and astonished his fame & celebrity didn't shield him. Can someone from South Africa explain why this white man-hero-athlete wasn't protected by patriarchy, or has the real world finally eclipsed my cynicism? Like, he was the wrong kind of white to the wealthy & powerful in South Africa?
posted by honey badger at 5:25 PM on December 3, 2015

Etrigan: Is this sort of thing commonplace? An appeals court upgrading a sentence?

This Reddit comment from someone who claims to be a South African lawyer is the best explanation I've seen.
posted by iffthen at 12:15 AM on December 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Netherlands moved away from this system several hundred years ago, but for some reason, it stuck around in South Africa.
We still have appeals that can result in higher sentences though. I'm surprised that that is apparently not the case everywhere. Both defendant and public prosecution office can appeal, and the higher court looks at the case again and can decide to change the sentence in both directions.
posted by blub at 2:10 AM on December 4, 2015

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