Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The trial of Oscar Pistorius

At all times and places 'ordinary citizens' are certain in advance of the guilt or innocence of others: Shrien Dewani long ago became the next candidate for it in the ghastly murder calendar. People judge on emotion and gut feel. But in the case of Oscar Pistorius, the whole world at least now has the trial evidence to go on.

In spite of all kinds of hypocritical columns from journalists protesting against it, televising the trial cannot then be a bad thing. Speaking personally, I felt I should tune into it simply because, like the vast majority, I have never attended a criminal trial. I wanted to know how cross examinations are really conducted, having only ever seen melodramatic fragments of them in American movies. I held no particular brief for or against Oscar Pistorius. I am not that passionately interested in sport and particularly not in athletics. I did not know about Reeva Steenkamp because I am also not a reader of the gossip columns.

Up to now, it always seemed to me that the jury system, which in different forms is practiced worldwide, must be preferable in an imperfect world. Common humanity may rescue an erring individual from harsh or unjust laws: as members of a jury, people can refuse to convict. But it seems to me now a jury cannot be as sound as a trained judge and assessors when it comes to a high profile case like this.

Being emotionally uncommitted in the trial, I am able to watch it with (perhaps) a little more independence of mind. I do not believe in capital punishment under any circumstances and have realised I would not have been able to become a judge had I gone into law. Capital punishment is not the issue here, of course. That does not mean I find it less difficult to judge others and I am only grateful I do not have to make the decision Judge Masipa is faced with.

Be all that as it may, I have come to believe Oscar Pistorius is not telling the truth. For whatever bundle of reasons, evidence and prejudices I entertain, I believe he shot Reeva in a moment of rage brought on by something or other we - and I - will never know about now. At first I had followed this trial out of the corner of my eye. But as the cross examinations went on, it became clear to me Oscar did not love Reeva. They were having a night together, no doubt among several they have had. But this was not the love match the media had sold to us, though she seems to have been coming round to loving him. Reeva gave Oscar the Valentine, not vice versa.

To crown the horror of the outcome is the conviction none of it would have happened had Pistorius not been a gun enthusiast and SA a gun-owning society. It is a heavy burden to read the gun lobby argue there is no such thing as gun murder and Reeva could or would have been killed anyway that night. As if you can strangle or stab someone to death, who has a cell phone with her, through a locked door.

Certainty and uncertainty come together for us from televising the trial of Oscar Pistorius. Yet if it is right a trial should be public, why should any trial be restricted to only very few of the public? I can find no convincing answer to that question.

Whatever the final verdict of the court, the only thing we ‘ordinary citizens’ are left to weigh in the balance is the supreme value of life against all the terrible ambiguities of human nature.  

Published on Politicsweb April 22 2014