Where there was once joy and smiles on the track, there are now bowed heads and tears in a Pretoria courtroom. The last time I blogged about Oscar Pistorius, South Africa’s “Blade Runner,” was on July 4, 2012, the Independence Day holiday in the United States.
Pistorius described that day as one of the proudest of his life, the day he was officially selected for South Africa’s Olympic team for the London Games. I followed Pistorius to London and I was at the Olympic Stadium when he made history by becoming the first double leg amputee to compete against able-bodied Olympians. He didn’t win any medals at the Olympics, but it didn’t really matter, because his presence at the Games provided plenty of inspiration.
After the Olympics, the 26-year-old Pistorius stayed in London and won three medals, two gold and a silver, at the Paralympics for disabled athletes. His story of overcoming adversity made him a national hero in South Africa, a country that loves its sporting heroes.
When that hero is charged with murder, though, feelings and allegiances can change. Pistorius was arrested on Valentine’s Day, February 14, and charged with the murder of his girlfriend, 29-year-old Reeva Steenkamp.
“It is very difficult to accept it because he was a role model,” said Jacqueline Pretorius, a South African who spoke with Reuters news agency outside the courtroom Wednesday. “I think about all the children who looked up to him and saw him as a role model, so it’s very difficult for me to accept this, but I hope that justice will be served in court and the wrong party will go and do his time.”
The killing of Steenkamp has also raised the issue of gender-based violence in South Africa. A group from the ruling political party, the African National Congress’s Women’s League, has protested outside the Pretoria courtroom, saying violence against women needs to stop in South Africa.
“It was a planned game that he did,” said Amukelani Baloyi, another South African closely watching the Pistorius case. She told Reuters, “I doubt if I want him to be out of the prison. Because usually in South Africa, we must promote a motto to embrace our women and to respect our women as far as women and children’s rights are concerned.”
As far as Oscar Pistorius is concerned, the sensational nature of his murder case guarantees that we’ll hear his name on an everyday basis as his trial unfolds. We need to hear the name of Reeva Steenkamp, too.