The Beginning of the End of Oscar Pistorius
South African journalists Barry Bateman and Mandy Wiener on what the case and the conviction mean for a man and his country.
Barry Bateman and Mandy Wiener have spent the last six months writing the book on Oscar Pistorius and watching the author of the original book, Blade Runner: My Story, face murder charges in a Pretoria court. As journalists (Weiner wrote Killing Kebble about the murder of a flamboyant businessman and Bateman was one of the first journalists at the scene of the crime) and as South Africans, the pair has been grappling with a bizarre, tragic story and the international attention it has attracted.
Though their tome, One Tragic Night: The Oscar Pistorius Trial, won’t hit shelves until Pistorius’s October sentencing date, the pair is quick to point out that the Pistorius saga may continue if the disgraced Olympian decides to appeal his culpable homicide conviction. Either way, South Africa and the world at large will continue to wonder what a national hero did and didn’t do.
What is it about the Oscar Pistorius case that got the world’s attention?
Barry Bateman: This is somebody on the crest of the wave of global stardom. I mean, he’d come out of the Olympic games in 2012 and not just the Paralympic games, but the Olympic games as the first disabled amputee to compete against able-bodied competitors. He was at the height of his game. He was spending big money. He was having the world’s coolest sponsors throwing money at him.
Mandy Wiener: Then you’ve got this beautiful model girlfriend on the cusp of local stardom. It has all of the ingredients of a captivating, compelling story. It has that kind of Shakespeare tragedy to it. I mean, he’d just bought himself a $2.5 million McLaren.
How did all that international media attention affect the trial?
MW: I think the world was heavily involved. I think that the police and the prosecutors knew that they were under a magnifying glass and I think that the O.J. Simpson case is set in their minds and they knew that they had to get it right.
The difference here was the media was willing to pay massive amounts of money to people for any kind of development. For South Africa, we are not used to that. We have the international media sweeping in and throwing cash at everyone and people are not really sure what to do with that.
It seemed like there were a lot of conflicting reports and the cops were out of their depth.
MW: There were issues with the police investigation right from the start. Starting with the main investigative officer wasn’t wearing protective booties on the crime scene, then one of Oscar Pistorius’s watches was stolen from the crime scene and there were leaks of photographs.
BB: Where Oscar lives out in the East, it borders on small holdings and agricultural properties, so the guys out there are usually dealing with things like cattle theft and things like that. Here you’ve got this massive, high-profile killing taking place and they get to the scene and…they went in there without those booties.
The judge just ignored it entirely; that didn’t matter in the trial. The station-level investigators were taken off very early because it emerged as well that the lead investigator was facing five charges of attempted murder himself. Sometime back he was trying to pull over a taxi and there were five occupants in the taxi and they wouldn’t stop so he opened fire so he was subsequently charged with five counts of attempted murder.
Did any of that come into play in the case? Was any of that ever linked to Oscar?
MW: The judge had quite a complex understanding of the law in her conviction of Oscar Pistorius, because it was really about intent and about negligence and about these nuanced definitions of the law. She dismissed the fact that it could’ve been a premeditated murder. It could’ve been an argument that there were fits of rage that Reeva ran into the bathroom in terror with her cell phone. She wiped that off the table so any of the forensic evidence was quite inconsequential.
What was the reaction to the verdict?
MW: The court of public opinion has convicted Oscar Pistorius. The judgment itself has been debated at lengths on its legal interpretation on whether or not she got the law right in terms of the conviction between murder and culpable homicide. A lot of the top legal experts here are saying that she didn’t apply the law properly and that she misinterpreted it and that she should’ve convicted him of murder. Then there are some legal analysts who are saying that she got it absolutely spot on. So if you go into a hair salon, if you go to a water cooler, if you go anywhere at the moment, there is massive controversy and raging debate.
It does feel like the O.J. case in that regard, except this time around we have Twitter and Facebook. To what extent has that amplified the yelling?
BB: On the 13th of February, the day before the shooting, I was at 9,000-odd Twitter followers, which wasn’t bad for a local journalist. By the end of the bail application it had skyrocketed to 139,000. It had gone up by 130,000 in seven days. And now, I’m up to 220-odd thousand. It just comes down to the global interest in the story. People want to get into that courtroom. Sometimes you can’t get to a radio or TV but everyone’s got a handheld device.
Do you think we’ve learned anything about Oscar Pistorius as a human being?
MW: I will say that during the trial it emerged that there were these two Oscars, and this came from that psychiatric analysis and the psychologist report. The one is the global superstar, the blade runner. He achieved beyond expectation; he stood 1.85 meters with his prosthetic legs; he was this brand ambassador and high-achieving gold-medal winner. Then there was the second Oscar who, without his prosthetic legs, was vulnerable.
The feeling was that he was being genuine when he was sobbing on the stand and vomiting in the courtroom?
BB: I have absolutely no doubt that he was sincere and you know I think that point was made by the state as well. Even the most clinical planned murderer can pull the trigger and blow somebody’s head off and have regrets immediately. Remorse can kick in so quickly—so forget all about emotion and the rest of it. If you just look at what he was feeling there it was absolutely sincere and I have no doubt about it that he was significantly traumatized by what happened that morning.
What was your biggest takeaway from watching this trial?
MW: The whole idea that justice not only needs to be there but it needs to be seen and to be understood and this case really opened up the justice system.
What was it like to experience such a huge global event in your hometown?
BB: [Laughs] It was a pain in the ass.
One Tragic Night: The Oscar Pistorius Murder Trialby Mandy Wiener and Barry Bateman will be released in October 2014.
Photos by Alon Skuy / The Times-Pool / Gallo Image / Getty Images