Saturday, 25 June 2016

[OPINION] Thoughts on the Oscar Pistorius interview

Here are a few thoughts about the much-anticipated Oscar Pistorius interview that aired last night.


The trial of Oscar Pistorius has been of huge public interest in South Africa and the world, and his first TV interview since the murder of Reeva Steenkamp on the night of 14 February 2013 was unsurprisingly eagerly anticipated.

Thousands of South Africans stayed up to watch the broadcast on M-Net (DStv, channel 101) to listen to Pistorius tell his side of the story without the dogged cross-examination from state prosecutor Gerrie Nel.

The interview showed a seemingly distressed Pistorius breaking down regularly as he recounted events from the night with perfect clarity. He also describes a measure of self-loathing and disbelief at what happened.

“I did take Reeva’s life,” he said. “I must live with that. I can still smell the blood. I can still feel the warmness of it on my hands and to know that’s your fault, that’s what you’ve done. And I can understand the pain of the people that loved her and miss her – I feel the same pain. I feel that same hate for myself.
 Thoughts on the Oscar Pistorius interview
I would like to believe that if Reeva could look down upon me, that she would want me to live that life.

“I look back and I think, ‘How did this possibly happen? How could this have happened? How could this have happened?’”

Pistorius describes a cosy evening during which the couple ate a romantic dinner that Steenkamp had prepared, complete with candles, before settling in for the night and watching TV until they fell asleep.

He recalls minute details, like Steenkamp teasing him to brush his teeth and the exchange they had when he’d woken up to close the sliding doors. He also recalls the words he shouted into the bathroom before getting his gun and firing off the four shots that killed Steenkamp who was locked in the bathroom cubicle.

His composed delivery stood out for psychologist Leonard Katz. “It felt like he was narrating a movie,” said Katz, who was part of a special post-viewing panel on Carte Blanche. “He’s told the story so many times to his lawyers, to the court, there is a certain amount of coaching. Yet considering that he was pretty traumatised at the beginning, there must have been a certain amount of trauma, and the memory would have been very patchy afterwards. But he tells such a smooth story and I think a lot of it has been rehearsed.”

Based on comments on social media as the interview aired, many believed that Pistorius showed little respect for the pain of Steenkamp’s family as he seemed to prioritise what he’s lost before considering what the Steenkamps have lost.

“I don’t know if she felt pain. I don’t know what she felt, but whatever I did was terrible,” Pistorius said. “I see the hurt this has caused my family, caused mutual friends that we used to have – some don’t speak to me anymore and some of them think I’m ungrateful that I still have my life, but I see the pain that it’s caused Reeva’s family.”

In the interview, Pistorius addresses some of the issues that have bothered the public, like why Steenkamp had locked herself in the bathroom and how he could have been unaware that she wasn’t in bed.

“She must have gone to the bathroom to relieve herself and when I started shouting, she must have thought someone was coming down the passage off the balcony, so she got scared and closed the bathroom door. And here I am thinking that is the confirmation of there being someone in the bathroom, and she just hears me shouting and coming closer and closer to the bathroom.”

However, the disgraced Paralympian offers no reason as to why she didn’t say anything as he called to the intruder when she’d locked herself in the bathroom.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I can ask myself a million times why I didn’t close the (sliding) door before I went to bed. Why didn’t Reeva close the door? Why didn’t she tell me when she got up to go to the bathroom? Why didn’t she shout at me from the toilet?

“All these things I can’t say why she didn’t do them because she didn’t do anything wrong. But it’s difficult. It’s difficult to know that if one of those small things had happened, that the situation would have been different and I would still have her here with me.”

The level of emotion that Pistorius exhibited during the interview – wailing loudly into his hands and, at one point, storming off into another room to compose himself – was of interest to Katz, who noted that most people who are suffering from trauma show it in far more subtle ways.

He compared Pistorius’ interview to that of Steenkamp’s father, Barry, on the stand as he testified in mitigation of sentencing. Katz pointed out that Barry’s body visibly shook with emotion as he described trying to imagine the pain his daughter must have gone through at the moment of her death and how he struggled to express himself.

In stark contrast, Pistorius was able to tell his story with clarity, even though he was describing what he says was the most traumatic night of his life.

In the interview, Pistorius also reveals that he emphatically told his defence team that he was prepared to spend time in jail for culpable homicide but not for murder.

“What is difficult to deal with is this charge of murder,” he said. “The day before the [trial started], I sat with my lawyers and told them that whatever happens I will spend the maximum for culpable homicide – which is 10 years in jail – for taking Reeva’s life, but I won’t spend a day in jail for murdering anyone.”

However, as we all now know, the Supreme Court of Appeal sitting in Bloemfontein found that the decision to fire four shots into a small confined spaced showed dolus eventualis: that he must have known and understood his actions would result in the death of whoever was behind that door.

Pistorius adds that he doesn’t want to waste his life going to jail where he’s already spent one-fifth of his five-year sentence for his earlier conviction of culpable homicide.

“I don’t want to go back to jail. I don’t want to waste my life sitting there. If I was afforded the opportunity of redemption I would like to help the less fortunate like I had in my past. I would like to believe that if Reeva could look down upon me, that she would want me to live that life.

“I don’t argue with anyone that feels that they should lock me up and throw away the key. Reeva was a fantastic person, but if their premise is based on the fact that I took her life intentionally, which has not been found, then it’s a very sad thing to think that society would want to do that. I had wanted to contribute positively, I’d like to believe, to people’s lives before this tragedy happened.”

Pistorius will be sentenced on 6 July 2016. The interview is available on DStv Catch-Up service.

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