Analysis

Oscar's in focus, but Marikana is still a mystery

Nikiwe Bikitsha

The public rushes pell-mell to pore over tales told by pale males, yet scorns deeper societal tragedies, writes Nikiwe Bikitsha.

The Oscar Pistorius trial is receiving saturation coverage, but the Marikana commission has not attracted the same level of interest. (Paul Botes, M&G)

I'm one of those people who, ahead of the Oscar Pistorius murder trial's beginning, was not terribly interested in following it gavel blow by gavel blow. My logic was that the most important facts are already before us: Reeva Steenkamp is dead. She died at the hands of her partner. Pistorius shot and killed her. It is an unkind fate met by many South African women.

Although Steenkamp's death is tragic and Pistorius's fall from grace shattering, it is the killing of 44 people at Marikana in 2012 that I so desperately want to understand.

But, 19 months later, the answers are yet to come. Every time I think about this atrocity, it leaves me mute. Yet both these incidents are tragic and must be reported fully because they tell us a story about the country we are.

Thus I have found myself drawn, despite myself, into what is unfolding in courtroom 4D of the Pretoria high court. The "trial of the century"? An annoying exaggeration when the century has scarcely begun. Intriguing to watch is what the trial has, in varying degrees, revealed about what life is like for some people in South Africa.

Overseas observers, I'm sure, are curious about the colourful array of accents in which the witnesses and other participants speak.

These accents reflect our melting pot of differences in class, race and background. Pistorius's expensive advocate, Barry Roux, speaks a strongly Afrikaans-accented English.

Prosecutor Gerrie Nel's accent is less distinct but still shows audible signs that English is not his first language. The insistent and animated interpreter is bilingual and translates from Afrikaans to English.

Most of the main role-players – including the accused – happen to be male and Afrikaans-speaking.

Many of the witnesses have testified in Afrikaans. Does this indicate that the language still has some power and prevalence in South Africa?

The friends, neighbours and acquaintances of Pistorius are all white. I don't know to what extent this reveals information about his social circle or whether, broadly, as South Africans, we still very much socialise or interact primarily within our own race groups.

The first time we saw a black person testify – or play any role other than that of the judge – was the security guard, Pieter Baba.

He is much lower down the food chain than the academics and advocates who have been on display so far, an indication that the lowlier jobs in our country are still largely occupied by black people. This, of course, is juxtaposed against the prominence of the judge, a black woman – Thokozile Masipa.

The transformation of the judiciary has been one of those things we've painstakingly tried to build in South Africa since 1994; Masipa's every move and each ruling will be scrutinised.

We've also seen a type of macho masculinity in full display. Think of the testimony of boxer Kevin Lerena and the okeish, devil-may-care passing around of a gun in a restaurant.

The other gun story told by a witness, of shots fired through a car sunroof, is so typical of the gung-ho assurance of a certain kind of masculinity in South Africa – the prevalent type. Who cares what the law says? We are young, newly rich, successful, brash and invincible.

Class differences are also at play, alongside social mobility. This is not a world of those whose wealth and position has always been assured. They fought their way there.

The women in their lives, it seems, are appendages – almost ornamental. At least that's the impression one got from Samantha Taylor's description of her relationship with Pistorius, which fell apart after he met Steenkamp. Taylor claims Pistorius cheated on her several times.

The ex-girlfriend explained how Pistorius took his gun with him wherever he went. It was not far off when he slept – it was right under his bed. His cellphone, she also testified, was always in his hand, even when they were in bed together. He was constantly on it. Where is the love and respect for the person you are spending time with? Surely the phone can play second fiddle?

On a purely logistical level, I've been taken aback by how short the court day is. There hasn't been one day on which the court has sat from 9.30am to 4pm. Sittings always end round 3pm. If this is the usual way our courts run, it's no wonder the wheels of justice grind so slowly.

We are able to make these deductions and observations, whether or not they are flawed, because the media's cameras are in court every day.

I wish we had a chance to analyse the Marikana commission as closely. What would it tell us about who we are, and why so many people were killed that day? We can only speculate, because reports are sporadic – and the cameras are not rolling, gavel blow by gavel blow.

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