As the world dissects the sentencing of Oscar Pistorius for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp, Tanya Levin’s response is simple: “Women don’t matter. Sport does.”
We learned this lesson 20 years ago when crowds cheered as OJ Simpson was cleared of the double-murder charges of Ronald Goldman and of Simpson’s wife, Nicole. The story at the time was that it was a race game, that California’s justice system was terrified of a repeat performance of the riots that had ripped LA apart following the beating by the LAPD of Rodney King.
And race was a big factor – the groups celebrating OJ’s release were overwhelmingly African American.
But it was after the trial that we learned so much more about Nicole Brown Simpson and her violent and controlling husband, his rages, her calls to the police that were answered with starstruck awe upon arrival. Nicole herself had said that OJ would kill her and he would get away with it.
We learned something similar yesterday when Oscar Pistorius was sentenced to a maximum of five years for the “culpable homicide” of Reeva Steenkamp, his 31-year-old girlfriend, on Valentine’s day 2013. The difference with Oscar Pistorius is that he admitted firing the gun that killed Steenkamp. Pistorius’ defence is that he believed that it was an intruder in his bathroom and thus made a terrible mistake. As with OJ Simpson’s trial, race is an enormous factor in that of Pistorius. If there had been a male of African descent behind the door there would have been no trial and you probably would have missed the small paragraph dedicated to the heroism of Pistorius in the face of a home invasion.
Also worthy of note with this case is that South Africans also love their sport and being banned for all those years internationally played a role in the nation dispensing with the brutally cruel and racist apartheid system.
My ISP outsources to South Africa, and one night, soon after Pistorius was arrested, I was on the line to them and asked the tech support rep what she thought would happen.
“Oh,” she said, “We all feel so sorry for…”
I went hmmm in support.
“…him,” she finished.
“Him?” I checked.
“Yes of course,” she explained in her thick, clipped accent. “We live like this all the time, always on edge. They’ll shoot you for a cigarette. They’ll shoot you for a match to light it.”
In South Africa, white people are still terrified of the “African” criminal – the panic defense is well understood.
It’s just, I’ve been wondering…what if Reeva had killed Oscar?
Can you imagine if Steenkamp had heard a noise, grabbed a gun, run over to where she thought a noise was coming from and fired away?
If she had killed the great Oscar Pistorius, famed athlete and Paralympic hero, do you think her crying would have been believed?
Do you think Judge Masipa would have dismissed the evidence of witnesses who heard the screaming before the shots?
Would she have disregarded the text messages that displayed a history of the fear one partner felt about the other as irrelevant due to the presence of happier ones?
While Australia loses one woman a week, on average, to murder by intimate partner violence, South Africa loses three to four a day, around six times the global average.
Maybe a dead girl is no big deal compared to a gold medal?
More than 1,300 women a year dead.
But there’s only one Oscar Pistorius.
We’ve long known that Africans aren’t worth much in white South Africa.
And we just found out that women don’t mean much more…that sport wins over anything.