The Pistorius case has done a great deal of damage to the South African nation. A German press view
(Editor: Alex Smit-Stachowski is speaking in her column about life as a South African now living in Germany. The South African journalist lives in Krefeld, in North Rhine-Westphalia/ Germany).
Germans have given the Oscar Pistorius case top billing in newspapers, on websites and on TV – they, like South Africans take their sport idols very seriously and there’s a feeling of shocked dismay from the press here.
For each Tour de France, the sports commentators raise a jaded eyebrow and speculate who might be on steroids and when cycling legend Lance Armstrong decided to tell US talkshow queen Oprah Winfrey that he had indeed been doping during his career – there was a collective intake of breath in Germany. Their hero had been lying through his teeth – despite the many accusations and the evidence in front of him.
I learnt on the morning of the 14th that Pistorius had killed his girlfriend model Reeva Steenkamp via Facebook through a South African friend who posted it on their page after reading it in the Afrikaans newspaper Beeld. The news spread like a wildfire through the social networks and within an hour it hit Germany. The shock and dismay was because Pistorius is regarded as a respected sports figure, one who had made a name for South Africa and for fellow paralympians worldwide.
The mail provider service gmx immediately put it on their front page – Sports star slays girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. The state broadcasting channels also led with the story – what is more romantic in the European sense – than a crime of passion by a famous and good-looking athlete on the day dedicated to love? Germany does not tend to lead with crime stories unless they are particularly newsworthy and Pistorius was granted lead story status.
The private broadcasters called on their contacts in South Africa and had reporters on the ground tell the story as they stood outside the court room or his home. The story has been given the same level of importance as that of disgraced cyclist Armstrong – which in German terms is very important. Why did he do it? What was going through his mind? What are the extenuating circumstances? Is he who we thought he was? are the questions being asked via the media. The public who believed in him and found him to be an example of how a person should be is dismayed and feel betrayed. This follows in the wake of several prominent German politicians turning out to be fakes despite their credentials.
Local celebrities might have drunken escapades or public spats with ex-wives but this story immersed in blood, violence and death of a beautiful and strong, blonde woman is a level beyond what is on the news here usually. I asked people what they thought of it and they could not believe that this could happen from such a ‘decent’ person. Foreigners could understand it better – most of us hail from countries where violence is par for the course and crimes of passion are not unusual.
When the investigating officer was pulled off the case because he also has murder charges against him – the German boulevard press went to town. If you read that form of media, South Africa looks like a country with citizens who carry guns easily and using weapons is acceptable and where women are in danger of rape or worse.
The Pistorius case has done a great deal of damage to the country. I’m sure tourists will still flock to visit Cape Town but that faith in South Africans as a nation has been tarnished and it will take a lot of work to get back that respect.