The news that Oscar Pistorius, who brought us so much pride on the world stage, had allegedly murdered his girlfriend was all too much to bear. South Africans, his fans world-wide and the media struggled to digest the truth of what may have happened at his home, so much so that the reality of the death of Reeva Steenkamp, someone’s child, someone's friend, was banished to the margins of the tragedy. This cannot be allowed to happen.
Reeva loved tea. She thought it was a universal panacea and any problem could be solved with it. She also loved scones.
She was a Leo and we were planning her 30th in Vegas. She would drop anything to come you if you needed her or felt sad.
She was mad about Oscar, completely in love with him, as he was about her.
She wanted to be famous.
The messages beeped through on my phone, amid an overwhelming bombardment of calls from global news networks and incessant requests for interviews. They were from a mutual friend, one who was mourning a deep loss. It was one of those poignant, unique moments in which I had to pause and shift from the sometimes surreal frenzy of the news machine and allow reality to sink in. Until then it had been all Oscar, Oscar, Oscar – the Blade Runner, Paralympics golden boy, worldwide icon, PR machine. I hadn’t realised until that point that Reeva Steenkamp and I shared several mutual friends and yet had never before met. They all spoke glowingly of her with genuine love and affection.
While I fielded calls from radio and TV stations in the UK, Australia, Canada, Spain, the Czech Republic and other more remote countries, facts were regurgitated and so were the questions. Mostly all about Oscar. At home, as South Africans, we struggled to digest the news, not wanting to comprehend the truth of what may have occurred at Pistorius’ home on Thursday morning. We justified, contemplated hypotheses and drove speculation about why he would have shot and killed his girlfriend. Then, true to form, we began to joke.
The reality was simply too much too bear. And in South Africa, reality is often stranger than fiction. Oscar had brought us such pride on the world’s stage and the veneer had shattered, the gloss was horribly tarnished. It cut the country deep, rocked us to our very core.
But with those text messages staring at me on the screen, it was undeniably real. So real for those who called Reeva Steenkamp a friend and truly appreciated her love of tea.
Somewhere amid the chaos of the day, a lawyer with decades of experience in criminal matters phoned. She was frustrated at the media hype around the incident. “I’m looking for a compassionate, female perspective,” she said. “Whether the charges are legitimate or not, someone died today. Don’t miss that point. Someone’s child died today and she was also important.” It was yet another dose of reality. When the media circus of hired helicopters and global requests moves on, Reeva Steenkamp will still be dead.
The 29-year-old model was on the cusp of celebrity stardom. Her relationship with Pistorius had elevated her profile and she was due to feature in a reality show scheduled to start this weekend. Samantha Moon, the executive producer and creator of Tropika Island Treasure, says there were intense deliberations about whether they should continue premiering the season on Saturday as planned.
“The more we thought about it, the more I felt quite strongly that right now the country and the world knows Reeva as a model with amazing images of this beautiful girl. But what we have is proof of how wonderful she was. For me, the fact that South Africa will get to know this girl that we love and feel the loss of very deeply, I feel that if we were not to air it, we would be in some way contributing to erasing her. I just don’t think we can do that.
“I would like everyone to know her as an intelligent, fierce, fearless woman. She was exceptionally caring and generous and truly loving. One of the things the contestants often joked about was that you couldn’t be in Reeva’s company for five minutes without being afflicted by ‘Reeva Fever’,” says Moon.
Sarit Tomlinson, the managing director of Capacity Relations which managed Steenkamp, gushed about the law graduate and actress’ approach to life. “Everyone that met Reeva will tell you the same thing, that she was the kindest, most down to earth girl with the most endearing personality. She was always about making other people happy and ensuring her friends and family were smiling. She really was a pure soul,” Tomlinson recalled.
As a journalist who is forever chasing the next deadline, I always try to pause and take cognisance of a story. Step away and breathe it all in and appreciate the ramifications of what we’ve put out there into the world. Sometimes, it’s hard to grasp when you’re detached and merely stating the facts. You have to challenge yourself to always ensure your humanity has not been abandoned and that you retain compassion. As a crime reporter, it is also not often that a story in this country can shock you, this one most certainly did. Somewhere between a call to a mourning relative and a two-way with a breakfast talk show in New Zealand, I stepped outside the madness, and took a moment.
South Africa repeatedly produces material that a best-selling crime writer could never conceptualise. In fact, best-selling author Deon Meyer once told me that if he were to write a novel based on the Kebble killing, no one would believe him. Perhaps that is why it is so difficult for us to deal with reality. It just seems, well, too unreal.
For Oscar Pistorius, the incomprehensible reality of the nightmare he is in will just be beginning to dawn. For Reeva Steenkamp’s family, the reality of her absence will be unmistakable. For her friends, who were once afflicted by “Reeva Fever”, there will be no denying the reality of her bloody, tragic end.
In South Africa, truth is so often stranger than fiction. The reality can hurt so badly that we don’t want to believe it.
This column also appeared on the Daily Maverick.