South African athletic icon Oscar Pistorius is spending the night in a jail cell charged with murder following the shooting death of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp at his Pretoria residence early on Thursday.
Pistorius, known as "Blade Runner,” is suspected of shooting his girlfriend Steenkamp, four times in the head and upper-body.
Earlier media reports suggested that the 26 year old athlete shot Steenkamp, a 30 year-old model, because he thought she was a burglar who had broken into his home. Those reports suggested the shooting may have been a romantic Valentine's Day gesture that turned tragic, as Steenkamp sought to wake Pistorius from sleeping.
“But police said the shooting was being treated as a murder investigation and that they were ‘very surprised’ by the reports which they said did not come from them.
“Brigadier Denis Beukes confirmed the pair were the only ones present in the house at the time of the shooting, and that there had been previous incidents at the premises including ‘allegations of a domestic nature’, a Sky News source subsequently reported.
According to Sky, paramedics were called to Pistorius’ home between 4am and 5am local time.
“Police arrived shortly afterwards and a 9mm pistol was recovered from the scene. They have launched a murder investigation,” that report said.
Sky seems to have at first shared the opinion of South African journalist Kalay Maistry, who apparently accepted Pistorius' version of how the shooting happened without question.
"I think what this actually highlights is the level of fear ordinary South Africans have," claimed Maistry. "This is a man who had gone to bed, had an innocent surprise from a girlfriend … but in the moment thinks someone is trying to break in and he grabs his gun.
"This has come as a complete surprise for a man who’s considered a national hero," she added.
But it is probably worth noting that Maistry is employed by the Government of South Africa, in the Department for Arts and Culture (DAC). The earliest Sky report, cited by this writer, did not mention that detail.
Call me sceptical, but I’m not inclined to believe Pistorius’ story – which he appears to be sticking to.
A Guardian report indicates this as it cites eNews Channel Africa which “said it understood Pistorius had told police it was a ‘horrible accident’ and would plead in court that he mistook Steenkamp for a burglar.”
“Such incidents are not unknown in a country where crime is high and fear of crime even higher. In 2004, for example, the rugby player Rudi Visagie shot dead his 19-year-old daughter after he mistakenly thought she was a robber trying to steal his car in the middle of the night” continues the Guardian report
It does note, however, that “police have played down the theory in this case”.
Is it just me, or does interpreting Brigadier Beukes remarks as ahe “playing down” of a theory rather than a denial of Pistorius’ alleged mistaken identity claim seem rather sympathetic to the athlete now dangling on the precipice of disgrace?
And doesn’t the claim by Pistorius’ father, as reported by the Guardian, that "It will be extremely obnoxious and rude to speculate. I don't know the facts. If anyone makes a statement, it will have to be Oscar”, seem a bit desperate: a case of defense through offensive play?
And this is even if we can sympathize with him as a father in a desperate situation?
Why does he focus on the supposed bad manners ("rude and obnoxios") of speculation? What about the possible illegality or irrationality of it? Is he in fact indirectly conceding that some speculation is rational in the circumstances?
And by questioning the "etiquette" of those who may speculate, is he perhaps revealing the fossilization of his own assumptions about South African society; his clinging to a bygone age in which any challenge of his son's innocence in or justification for killing Steenkamp was likely to be labelled "rude and obnoxious"?
Alternatively, is there a possibility that the Valentine's Day surprise gone wrong version of the shooting did not originate with the younger Pistorius?
Could this be why his father suggested that the athlete had not yet made a “statement” on the shooting?
This would explain why the police were surprised to hear the mistaken identity version of events being aired by the media.
The question then becomes, where did the DAC journalist Kalay Maistry get her story?
At any rate, this writer is not inclined to “buy it.”
Maybe it’s a hangover from theblood-doping disgrace or the scandal of another Olympian, Suzy Favor Hamilton, who was found to be leading a double-life as a prostitute.
After being exposed, Favor Hamilton spoke of her sense of invincibility: the feeling that her deception would never be discovered. Athletes are encouraged to nurture a sense of invincibility, she told one media outlet.
Perhaps I am inclined to doubt “Pistorius story” or, more accurately, the DAC-Maistry representation of his story, because of the bad form he showed, arguably, when he was defeated by Brazilian paralympian Alan Oliveira, at the London games last September.
Whatever the case, I – and others - will be watching the outcome of this tragedy closely. We will be watching to see how the South African police’s investigation progresses.
One expects that the timing of events will be critical to their investigation. At what time was Steenkamp shot? What time were the emergency services called? And so on.
And might there have been an interval between the shots that took Steenkamp's life, when she might have screamed or possibly tried to alert Pistorius to her identity?
But if as Brigadier Beukes said, Pistorius’ neighbors heard arguing before the shots were fired and those neighbors stick to that story, the other questions lose some priority.
The disgrace of prominent, national hero status athletes is not unheard of in South Africa. Some South Africans may even now be recalling the tragic fall from grace of their national cricket team’s captain Hansie Cronje.
Whether or not Pistorius is found guilty of murder or causing accidental death, this saga can only be described as tragic – especially for Steenkamp’s family and friends.
And while the model may not have shared Pistorius’ “national hero” status the DAC and other government departments surely must feel obliged to safeguard her interests as a South African citizen.