True crime and trial opinions from a layman's perspective
Earlier this week, Nick van der Leek and I recorded a Skype conversation in which we discussed our motivations for writing the ebook, TRANSCENDENCE. This is the 6th ebook in the Oscar murder trial series.
Four months ago, what initially began as trial conversation between the two of us grew in to a much deeper examination of what is happening to the world around us, and how injustices have affected our own personal lives… and we were angry. Just like many of you have become angered by the outcome of this trial.
This book, as well as the next two, are not intended to be a summary of the court case. Instead, they are heartfelt conversations about what we have lost and what we have gained along the way. We hope that you will share in this journey with us. To listen to our audio, click here:
We’d also like to offer an excerpt from the book. This chapter is titled 8 Perplexing Perspectives. In this passage, Nick is discussing his feelings about the suggestion (during the sentencing hearing) that Oscar should receive community service at the local museum:
In September, during an interview I gave with JacarandaFM, and on a few occasions in RESURRECTION and REVELATIONS, I’ve pointed out how mendacity leads to inversions of a narrative. I mentioned that Reeva’s screams become Oscar’s, Reeva’s voice also becomes Oscar’s, light turns to darkness, and perpetrator becomes victim. Instead of the criminal being the criminal, the policeman (Botha) is the real villain. He shot Reeva, not Oscar. Or it’s the media’s fault. Or it’s a disorder. Or it’s a muddle of versions.
Or it’s nothing more than Mendacity.
The natural end to these inversions must be that when it comes to sentencing, if the judge has dug herself a hole (and in our view she has), then she must see these inversions through to their logical end.
What would be more ironic than sentencing Oscar to a few hours a month cleaning the floors of a museum which still carries the old name of the Apartheid Province – the Transvaal Museum? And perhaps in cleaning the grime and dust from the floor, might see himself reflected, carrying Reeva, seeing her blood drip again and again on every wiped surface. No matter how many times he cleans those surfaces, the blood stains remain. Why? Because in court, did he ever really take responsibility for his disgraceful act?
Was his responsibility ever right, in the sense of sincere, and true? They say the walls talk, but so can the floor, and the weight of one’s own shadow and reflection under one’s feet.
So what may seem a shockingly inappropriate sentence, may, in the scheme of things, and in a specific sense, be wholly appropriate. I do not mean to suggest, even for a moment, that Reeva’s life and the horrific loss of it can be measured against a few sessions of mopping the floor. Obviously it cannot, and obviously nothing but the maximum sentence (45 years) would do the loss of her life real justice.
But when I see the Olympic champion, darling of the world’s media, symbol of hope, hero to the all, grounded to a dirty floor, mopping it up, even for a day, I see a bottom to his fall. And perhaps a bottom from which he will never fully arise again.
It is difficult to imagine, someone with the sense of entitlement and prestige of Oscar (his name itself feels puffed up, and strutting like a penguin) reduced to the vocations of South Africa’s lowliest employed citizens. The domestic workers. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like. Washing dishes. Cleaning up the scum and picking up the offal left by white collar workers on their way through the mezzanine level… I know exactly what’s it’s like because when I was 26/27 I worked for about 6 months as a kitchen porter – basically at a minimum wage – in the kitchens of Berkshire, England, during my sojourn in Maidenhead [circa 1998].
More likely, Oscar himself will find this more difficult than his days in court.
In short, all these fucked up inversions will reach their bottom here, and perhaps then for the first time, Oscar may begin to feel our outrage. He may also feel his own outrage, the outrage that led to the events of 14 February 2013, rising undiluted through his marrows once more. He will have to stand there and sweep them, day by day, through the carpet-less halls of a museum that might as well be a mausoleum to all of history’s injustices.
Oscar, even for a limited time, might be the custodian, the janitor, of that. A man who spreads films of water over the footprints and dusty residues of others, and erases them. A man who takes films of clear water, and soap, and collects the grime of society into a bucket. And then watches his floor fill up with more prints, more dust…
Sheer prison time, where one must face the cement walls in quiet contemplation of one’s vile acts (and perhaps, one’s vile self) also seems wholly appropriate. A harsh punishment for what appears now to have been brutal, pitiless, self-reinforcing behavior.
Nel was also at pains to stress today that Hartzenberg may be more than a little biased in her assessment of a wholly remorseful Oscar.
“Is a person involved in a court case, a serious court case…serious and remorseful…when on his own version he became intoxicated…involved in an altercation…during the course of the trial.” Nel asked Hartzenberg words to this effect.
I was also gratified to see Nel using my own aspersion – that culpable homicide is typically the lot of reckless drivers. Nel used this as his example, to differentiate the intent of a driver recklessly or accidentally hitting someone, in the randomness of a road environment, compared to a person arming himself in the confines of his own home, with a weapon that he has received weapons training on (including how to use it to deadly effect on a firing range) approaching danger and then firing it (for all intents and purposes) successfully.
And the answer is, well, if one is taking one’s own culpability seriously, one will make an absolute effort to control one’s conduct. Of course, if the crime was committed out of a sense of entitlement, and needing to perpetuate one’s selfish whims, then going clubbing and misbehaving in the middle of one’s own criminal trial (in which one denies culpability) fits perfectly.
So what is it that we, society want?
Do we wish to put Oscar behind the same door, and take turns firing shots through it until he is dead? We could do that, but that would make us no less barbaric than the criminal. In another age he might have been tied to the door and strung up.
Of course, we’re a far more civilized society. We forgive our murderers, and rapists. We do not deny them the right to murder and rape our fellow citizens once more. We respect their rights and entitlements to be rehabilitated, and criminals (both in and out of jail) also respect and admire us for our absolutely fucked up system. You want to be a victim? You want us to be the wolves, and you the helpless sheep, well then ignore and forget what we do, and forgive us our trespasses so we can do it again.
Revenge may be uncivilized, but we live in an uncivilized society. Why is it that Muslim countries like Malaysia and have such exceedingly low crime rates? Because there are real consequences to crimes. You steal, your hand gets cuts off. It works. In South Africa, you murder, and you get a slap on the wrist. It doesn’t work.
Retribution is quite different. Ulrich Roux mentioned tonight (on the Oscar Trial Channel) that crime hurts, but restorative justice heals. Retribution is when the mythic scales of justice in the sky are basically rehung and rebalanced accordingly. It may be a combination of money, community service, and jail time, but whatever the mix, there is a combination that may feel appropriate. In my opinion, and I hope I am not a little wrong, but very wrong, Masipa will misapply the retribution aspect as well. House arrest, and community service.
The alternative, sending Oscar to jail, is abhorrent. Because it would be dooming him. Well, it is no different to what Oscar did to Reeva, and at least in theory, it is the least Oscar could (and should do). Many on social media (and myself included) feel Oscar deserves the harshest possible sentence. And yet the court appears to be leaning in the opposite direction – to find excuses for the most lenient possible sentence.
The great error here (if it is an error, and the odds are that this ‘error’ is bought, rather than innocent) is that we have lost sight of the victim. What was the value of her lost life, not the value of the criminal’s? Because in seeing the value of her lost life, we give not only her – Reeva – a voice. We give ourselves one too.