I am afraid I have succumbed to the lure of "Oscar" commentary and wish to
offer a somewhat different view from Jonny Steinberg's "racial shame"
explanation, on this page last week, of many white South Africans'
antagonistic responses to the athlete's murder acquittal.
It may indeed be the case that "Pistorius's story, once almost impossibly
good, was now almost impossibly bad. He had become a source of racial
shame," as Steinberg puts it. But I would add that many white people just
think the guy is a jackass who should be socially ostracised. Pistorius is
like that cocky guy that your cousin's friend dated. She, the sweet besotted
airhead, brings him to the braai where everyone is initially excited to meet
him because they have had heard such great things about him but then
everything quickly sours because it turns out he is an annoying prick with a
puffed-up ego. In other words, the reaction to Pistorius is no different
from the reaction in 2009 to former Springbok rugby player Joost van der
Westhuizen's cheating and drug-experiment antics, which were caught on
camera and splashed all over the tabloids. Let me confess that even I bought
the edition of Heat magazine that headlined with the Van der Westhuizen
So much of this echoes the angry response to Lance Armstrong's fall from
grace. Here was a guy so many people wanted to believe in who turned out to
be an egocentric fraud who bullied even friends to advance his selfish
ambitions. Fans of the cyclist felt taken in, used and deceived by a smug,
unrepentant cheat they had hero-worshipped.
The white reaction to Pistorius is thus as much about a kind of mass
hysteria that comes with the fall of a media-deified elite sportsman. In
fact, in the days after Reeva Steenkamp's killing, I found myself trawling
some South African white supremacist Facebook groups. I never kept track of
those pages but what I found intriguing was that their initial reactions to
news of the shooting were generally divided into two. One camp tended to go
with the exculpatory "black intruder" theory followed by racist rants about
crime and the ineptitude of the government. However, a second string of
commentary almost immediately cast doubt on Pistorius's version and people
shared stories that depicted him as arrogant and abusive.
It seemed to me Pistorius's behavioural problems were already known by some
white South African cliques, and his unsportsmanlike behaviour towards
fellow competitor Alan Oliveira at the London 2012 Paralympics had put a bit
of a smudge on the shiny image his public relations team had spun.
In many ways, precisely because Pistorius was so much larger than life, his
demise does not touch the sense of moral purity many conservative white
South Africans associate with their racial identity. Conservative white
identity does not require white superheroes for affirmation. In fact, it
requires the opposite. It is ordinary whites who must maintain the image of
white decency. Crimes committed by ordinary whites create a much more
awkward disquiet among white conservatives because they show that whites are
capable of criminal depravity. Here I refer to the Griekwastad murders and
the Modimolle Monster, which both happened in farming districts where the
extreme right wing would have us believe a genocide perpetrated by blacks is
It is Don Steenkamp, the 18-year-old from Griekwastad who was found guilty
of raping his sister and murdering his parents, who is the face of racial
shame. He confounds racist whites who cannot reconcile his violence with
their narratives of postapartheid white victimhood. A Volksblad front page
on the Griekwastad case is telling, when it asks: "Hoekom, Don?" - Why, Don?
Pistorius the egotist is a celebrity disappointment; Don Steenkamp is a
Beyond the public reaction, though, both cases reminded me of why, in my
undergraduate studies at Rhodes University, I was captivated by
counterculture Afrikaans literature such as Riza de Wet's Diepe Grond, which
laid bare the pathological embrace of violence and intimacy in the false
idyll constructed as "white SA".
Article by: Nomalanga Mkhize.
Article Source: Business Day.