Posted in opinion, Parasport on December 30th, 2015 by John Coxon

oscar medal

( FOREWORD : I am an internationally published British author and have earned significant  income over the past thirty five years or more  as a freelance journalist providing original  illustrated authoritative reports and feature articles for a wide range of magazines and newspapers here and abroad covering a wide range of topics.  I now focus professionally on photography and I have chosen to limit my writing in the main over the last decade  to  blog entries and social media commentary essentially for the freedom that offers  from the constraints placed upon freelancers by editors  who may compromise my own ethics and  desire to write independently . I have spent literally hundreds and hundreds of hours writing about the Oscar Pistorius and his case on a wholly voluntary unpaid basis and countless hours on background research. For me this is about having moral courage, a strong sense of justice and integrity and has been truly shocked at aspects of this trial and case which for me fall far short of the standards embedded in our own legal system in the UK. I have also been horrified by the practices of number of journalists around the world in the manner and focus of their reports on this case. )

oscar piustorius and RSA flag

The current rash of hastily written coffee table E books  and hard copy books , often written by essentially non-expert pseudo journalist   homestead bloggers looking for easy  income  and or working journalists looking for quick cash and kudos ,  are milking the Pistorius case and almost all cynical, opportunistic  and simply capitalising  on a tragic event and inevitably presenting  a negative view of the athlete because portraying him as the villain, not one of the victims of an awful mistake , is what sells and appeals to  the chattering masses.

A more balanced appraisal of the trial, verdict and assessment of the athlete for example is a more time consuming task when looking at the whole picture and making an attempt to look for the justice behind all the hype, the harder and likely less lucrative and time consuming option. But this  would be the  route of more credible established more ethical authors  and  can’t think of one who thinks it is time yet to write such a book on the basis of “fools rush in.” The story of the case has not of course ended so what is currently on sale is always going to fall short in terms of being in any way definitive.  The idea of having , for example “exclusive” access to Reeva’s mother  is risible given how she has been interviewed by so many journalists, often paying to be able to do so and , of course, hardly likely to get a balanced view of the case  from her and essentially her script has never changed so unlikely to surprise.

Investigative newspaper journalists with genuine integrity are increasingly rare  and  papers have fewer and fewer actual staffers ( salaried staff on the books) and so often those are under editor’s directives to come up with “angles”  which sell not so often at the expense of  the actual truth. Such stuff  also has a limited shelf life and the salacious stuff can only sell while the story is still hot as may the small shelf off books the case has thus far generated.  As a result, to date , especially but not exclusively, before and during the actual trial we have witnessed a catalogue of popular press misinformation , so many  lies and exaggerations  based on falsehoods and hearsay , all accepted by sloppy journalists happy to go with the worst  scenario and often essentially libellous in terms of character assassination by media.

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What the Oscar Pistorius multiple trials can teach us about post-apartheid South Africa .

Posted in opinion, Parasport on December 26th, 2015 by John Coxon

Johannesburg’s Richmark Sentinel reported earlier today that Paralympic hero, Oscar Pistorius, the South African double amputee, also known as “Blade Runner”, has been found not guilty of common assault. Pistorius, who earlier this year delighted the crowds at Manchester’s Sport City during the BT Paralympic World Cup had been arrested and held in a police cell over night this September and later charged with common assault for allegedly causing a minor leg injury sustained by a 19 year old female house guest when he slammed the door to prevent her re-entering his home when she and her boyfriend had earlier been asked to leave following a domestic fight between the couple. The allegation provoked widespread disbelief that Pistorius was capable of deliberately harming anyone and certainly those fans with whom he spent so much time after his race chatting effortlessly and signing autographs and patiently posing for photographs with them would have been more than surprised had there been any other outcome to the case.

Dear South Africa ,

I feel saddened that your wonderful country is held back and victim to a corrupt, chaotic,  ineffective government under Zuma, and it appears as well, flawed police and justice practices and especially their abject failure to deal effectively with violent crime or deal with prosecutions fairly and consistently. Let’s not pretend- you know how dangerous life is in the RSA where, for example, so many decent citizens go to bed at night fearful of the real likelihood of armed intrusion and so many feel it is essential to own guns for self defence as their last and only resort.

Those South Africans who immediately jumped on the “anti- Oscar Pistorius” bandwagon, fuelled by sensationalist lie-mongers of the gutter press at home  and abroad,  and without even waiting for the trial or tempering fixed opinions based on actual evidence presented at trial, should be ashamed of themselves. They ought to be ashamed also of their current justice system which, for the first time, cynically elected to make Oscar Pistorius “murder” trial a show trial by broadcasting it live to the detriment of the defendant and  at the expense of justice for both poor Reeva  and Oscar.

Are you proud that the RSA’s  prosecutor invented a catalogue of lies about the character of the athlete which they were unable to substantiate in court  but which they relied upon to justify their false claim that the athlete’s actual profile fitted that of a violent unstable personality capable of wilfully killing another in a fit of rage? Did you enjoy or see fit  and  fair, the unethical aggressive self-fulfilling TV showboating from Nel which has bought international condemnation from legal professionals for falling far short of acceptable conduct, in publicly attacking and humiliating an as yet innocent during the trial, and yet clearly traumatised  and vulnerable man whom any reasonable person would not expect to be word perfect and entirely faultless in his testimony under such relentless pressure and in front of a global TV audience?

Were you happy about the police and forensic practice failings, inconsistencies in witness statements and expert opinion? I’d feel ashamed and actually spoiled to have the luxury of living in a much safer country, the United Kingdom with a far more consistent and openly fairer judicial system. Were I in your shoes, I’d feel, at least, proud of Judge Masipa in what was a no-win situation taking on this trial, yet diligently searching through all the evidence and separating the truth from Nel’s chaff -ridden efforts and yet who crucially could not find justification for the charge of murder to be upheld nor could she, in all fairness, conclude that Reeva’s death was anything other than a tragic accident. This in what were exceptional circumstances even in a country where gun deaths during home invasions are by no means rare  and  crucially ordinary homeowners, fatally shooting a real intruder or someone they thought to be. Can you be comfortable  that these ordinary people are customarily “let off” far more lightly than Oscar Pistorius ever was  and invariably given suspended sentences?

Are those people with such an entrenched view of events that night , who no doubt bought into the false picture that Nel presented of Oscar Pistorius’s actual character  which confirmed theory prejudices , very likely to have  bought into the lies that Oscar Pistorius received “special treatment” in prison  and was a “diva” when the press eagerly filled their front pages once again  with such hearsay during  and after the trial  and when the head of Correctional Services himself  was forced to publicly apologise for being the unwilling source of such allegations?  Are those the same people, as likely they are, who , to this day  and beyond,attack  and even troll well-informed supporters of the athlete on social media  and whose rebuttals  typically are either unsubstantiated affirmation of their verdict of murderer  and more typically attack the supporters themselves rather than their argument. (Naturally supporters and dissenters come from a range of backgrounds and carrying personal agendas including blind faith Oscar and Reeva “groupies” and those motivated by religious faith – sections who rarely focus on the actual facts of the case and trial and are unwittingly inclined to re-enforce preconceptions held by parties supporting either side on social media )

Where you happy when your own Minster of Justice  interfered with the autonomy of the parole system  and  clearly caved in to politically motivated pressure from the misguidedly selective attention seeking ANCWL harpies who had previously gate-crashed the trial to help promote their own broader matriarchal agenda rather than consistently support women, away from the cameras and media circus, who were genuine victims of actual domestic violence?

Are you comfortable  and  happy that a valid, justified, and  to my mind, safe verdict from a respected trial Judge ( not herself from a privileged background )  and  her Assessor colleagues has been challenged  and actually reversed by a robed junta  of autonomous unaccountable senior appeal judges meeting in private, due to an unprecedented  and cynical appeal, reversing  and  then sanctioning a verdict of murder which the prosecution in full public gaze woefully failed to prove at the actual trial?

You were at some point, I’d guess no doubt proud to have Oscar  carrying the flag for you  and such a great global  role model as a person  and  an athlete yet of course, as reasonable people, would reasonably have expected your legal system to treat him the same as anyone else accused of such a serious crime.  Are you happy Oscar Pistorius in fact got perverse “special treatment”; for example an unprecedented trial by live TV  and  not treated equally at the hands of the State’s legal system who must clearly be seen to be making political use of his global fame to try to show it is far more consistent, fair  and  robust than it actually is? I do not think anyone in possession of all these facts could come to any other conclusion that the state, reverting from the lesser charge of manslaughter to murder with intent, is either safe or anything other than this self-fulfilling by the state at the expense of the athlete and actual justice.

I am reminded of an old song “There but for fortune go you or I.“ What happened to Oscar Pistorius could have happened to you or one of your family and were he your son would you be satisfied with how the law has been meted out in this particular case where the trial judge could be so clear that it was not murder and yet a judicial elite should so radically disagree when reviewing the verdict? Let’s be clear, that was not on a point of law but interpreting exactly the same evidence and concluding that the athlete had, via semantic juggling with “dolus eventualis” the psychic power to predict a fatal outcome in shooting through that door when in fear of his life and when additionally anxious and uniquely in this case ,vulnerable without his artificial legs.

Nothing, sadly, can bring Reeva back yet it is clearly wrong to misrepresent Oscar’s tragic error as murder with intent based on all available evidence  and yet the trial does raise serious questions about the way the judicial process has been misused in this particular case  and that systems credibility  and which has serious implications for past, present  and future cases under investigation  and legal system scrutiny. Isn’t it so easy to be wise after the event in the comfortable safety of home in the clear light of day  and yes you may ask yourself,  and surely Oscar Pistorius has asked himself a thous and times since, why oh why didn’t he check to see whether Reeva was asleep next to him when he got up that night. But the law, even South African law works on certainty and can only convict if a case is proven beyond all reasonable doubt. It defies belief that the actual trial judge was very clear murder was not proven and yet the appeal court judges had absolutely no doubt it was?  I fail to see why people cannot give the athlete the benefit of the doubt as Judge Masipa so mercifully did. I wonder also what she would have decided as an appropriate sentence were it not for the world looking on.

I find it so hard  to accept that people, especially South Africans, citizens of what it is now clear is an incredibly dangerous place to live , (  and would venture to suggest especially for white middle-class South African home owners ) are in general , from all walks of life, so fiercely divided as to whether Oscar is a cold blooded murderer or (the man I still think he is based on an objective look all the evidence ) one who made a tragic mistake for which, there can be little doubt ,he never tried to duck responsibility.

For some surely that summary dismissal of Oscar Pistorius as murderer and abusive partner must be founded in the politics of envy- the notion that Oscar was able to and therefore somehow must have been trying to buy his way out of trouble using his former celebrity wealth. (Of course I recognise that people who can afford the high cost of defending a charge in court in current South Africa are still very likely the minority but that is hardly grounds to condemn the athlete for using what resources he had to fund his defence.)  Roux and his team I would suggest, would not have undertaken to defend the athlete without feeling pretty confident they could win based on so many weaknesses in the Prosecution’s own case against him.

The bulk of that former wealth, let’s not forget, was from a few  big corporate brands  seeking him out , not he them, to capitalise on the athlete’s growing world fame  and all of whom dropped him immediately news of Reeva’s death was announced, regardless of the actual circumstances of her death.  Having been sentenced  and served the full time , bar a few days, in prison  and then released to  face the remainder of his sentence , not in  freedom but under conditional  house arrest , the press focussed upon that being in his Uncle’s “mansion “  and yet hardly special treatment where by accident of birth he was part of a wealthy family and he, laudably, had initially funded  and bankrupted himself from his own resources to pay for the high trial /defence costs.

Those costs were greatly increased by the prosecution making what was expected to be a three week trial extend for far longer a period. This  included ( presumably at the State’s expense  and  which turned out to be the prosecution’s  impressive own goal ) imposing upon the athlete a thirty day psychiatric  assessment  at Weskoppies hospital  designed to confirm  and validate the Prosecution’s malicious  misrepresentation of the athlete’s character,  and was a spectacular failure in that regard. Yet even thereafter , so many people hung on to,  and still do to this day, the gutter press fuelled myths, that the athlete was no Golden Boy but a vain, angry, dangerous  and abusive man more than capable of murder where all the evidence suggests the very opposite.

Let us not forget, at what must be a difficult time for both parties in this tragedy, that poor Reeva entered into what was clearly a loving  and potentially significant long term relationship with the athlete  and during the trial  and since, there is no evidence that the relationship was anything other than normal  and loving or that Oscar Pistorius ever made her fearful  and the last few texts they exchanged surely confirm that  and yet both had concerns about personal safety in part based on actual incidents where the athlete had been menaced  and threatened. Your heart should surely go out particularly to Reeva’s mother, family and friends, empathising with their loss, subsequent grief and need for closure. While it is understandable that in an attempt to rationalise the events of that tragic night, Reeva’s mother finds it impossible other than, in hindsight, to draw the same conclusions in terms of the actual athlete’s character, as misrepresented by the prosecution and press, and apparent motivation, to account for her daughter’s untimely death as the Police and subsequently the prosecution did  and for her to be reluctant to accept the difficult truth, as determined by Judge Masipa that the athlete made a fatal tragic mistake.

We now await April 2016  to see how Oscar Pistorius’s defence team fair against the legal establishment once again, this time  at the Constitutional Court where the basis of that challenge is going to have  be that of the athlete’s human rights being violated and hard to see  that court can be impartial given  Judge Leach and the Court of Appeal panel’s perverse verdict has serious implications not only for the athlete but for all gun owning householders. If the law is going to be consistent in all similar cases in the future gun owning citizens surely then could not afford to use potentially lethal force in self defence even as a last resort as, surely, if Oscar Pistorius is a murder in such circumstances, so will they be found to be.

Oscar Pistorius sought to achieve his potential as an athlete and inadvertently, and not as a personal choice but as a consequence of his success , taught the world, bvy example, to look again and change its attitude to disability in relation to human potential and possibilities. Sadly by virtue of misadventure and the tragedy of causing Reeva’s death, his treatment during the trial and the subsequent consequences for him ask very serious questions about the actual everyday realities in the nation that has emerged from the post-apartheid era including exposing the shortcomings of the legal system which dropped, for example, perhaps unwisely, trial by jury, but the trail has also laid bare, through global attention to this case, just how dangerous daily life there can be and also suggests confidence in the judicial system as its stands has yet to be fully earned.

God bless ,help and guide South Africa to a fairer and more just future .Wishing you all a peaceful  and secure Christmas –peace on earth  and good will to all men.

John Coxon Christmas 2015

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