Opinion: The Oscar deflection

The story of Oscar Pistorius allegedly shooting Reeva Steenkamp in cold blood does raise pertinent questions about a number of vital issues, ranging from domestic violence to the treatment of women in our society. But, why must the untimely death of a model at the hands of a national hero take precedence over other matters of national importance?

The country collectively gasped as the news of a shooting at Pistorius’s upmarket Pretoria home broke early on Valentine’s Day morning.

But if you removed the fame aspect of the characters involved, it would be just another occurrence in our crime-ridden society.

Steenkamp is one of roughly 2 500 women who suffer the same fate annually in South Africa – often through the actions of their spousal partners.

Taking violent assaults, rapes, and other sexual misdemeanors against women into account, Steenkamp is approximately one of 200 000 yearly victims.

Yet the nation has been spellbound, hanging onto every minute detail of the unfolding drama.

All but two South African newspapers ran with the shooting as their lead story on Friday morning – despite President Jacob Zuma’s State Of The Nation address on Thursday evening.

The ensuing media frenzy has been a leading cause of South African citizens ignoring the other very pressing issues that haunt our country almost on a daily basis.

As we heard about how Oscar wept in the courtroom, we quickly forgot about Zuma’s speech that was filled with more empty promises.

As we pondered what Oscar might be sleeping on in his Brooklyn police station holding cell, we stopped thinking about the Nkandla saga and the multibillion-rand private sector collusion being investigated in the construction sector.

And as news trickled in that Oscar allegedly shot Reeva through the bathroom door, we collectively gasped and stopped thinking about the gang rape and murder of Anene Booysen.

This is not to say that South Africans should not be outraged that one of our national heroes could be guilty of premeditated murder.

If Oscar is found guilty and sentenced to jail time, it will mark the most spectacular fall from grace in South African history.

But surely we should be circumspect in our reaction and employ some perspective?

In the three minutes it has taken you to read this article, approximately 10 women would have been raped. Yet we are not outraged and shocked in the same manner as we are in the Pistorius incident.

Perhaps the answer lies in the media’s coverage of the event, which raises serious questions about our ethics.

Staying true to the maxim of “if it bleeds – it leads”, has led to the flouting of a court order compelling the media not to publish pictures of court proceedings and the possible violation of the subjudice rule.

The story of a beautiful blonde allegedly murdered by a disabled national icon will certainly sell more newspapers and magazines than covering another corruption scandal, another sexual assault or another murder in South Africa.

But it doesn’t mean that it should take charge of our national psyche.

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Small towns not ready for level 3

Officials in Beaufort West, which is on a route that links the Cape with the rest of the country, are worried relaxed lockdown regulations mean residents are now at risk of contracting Covid-19

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday