HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: Kobe Bryant: Mourning his death, remembering his rape


A person can be both dead and a rapist. Simple as that. You can mourn Kobe Bryant’s lost legacy and remember his out of court settlement with a woman who never gave him consent to have intercourse with her. It’s okay. You can do it.

Because people are not just one thing. And when they die, their sins are not removed, nor are their contributions. Both can co-exist in the period of grief that follows in a life lost.

Sharing condolences, recalling a great jump-shot or recognising his contributions to both the public and his family does not make you blind to the fact that in 2003, a 19-year old woman gave the basketball star a tour of the hotel she worked at (and where he was staying) before ending up in his room.

You can be grief-stricken and still be aware of the fact that the woman wanted to leave, but he asked her to stay and kissed her and she kissed him back.

You can share pictures of him sharing sweet moments with his daughter Gianna and remember that he started to take his pants off and she tried to pull away and leave – and instead of letting her go, he choked her, groped her, and raped her.

Yes, it is possible to miss the good memories of a man whilst remembering the bad ones.

And yes, it is also entirely humanly possible to recognise the wrongful doing of Bryant and abhor his behavior whilst at the same time acknowledging the fact that he, to an extent, was accountable and made an effort to understand the circumstances of his heinous actions with this apology:

“Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter. I issue this statement today fully aware that while one part of this case ends today, another remains”.

In the wake of his death, over the past couple of days, Twitter has been inundated with the usual reactionary sentiment. Some of disbelief, some of shock and sadness and some of pure anger at how the life of a 41-year-old star was taken so early.

There was an outpour of emotions that flowed from the fact that he was a great father, a supportive and loyal husband and an inspiration to many, many communities – but the tributes failed to mention his horrific act of the past.

And those who dared, were dragged through the feeds of Twitter leaving only a trail of blood and shame.

To be glad that someone is dead is, well, just a bit sick. Even I was a bit disturbed when the most horrific person of recent times - Osama Bin Laden - was killed.

I just cannot find myself celebrating the death of a person, regardless of how much I despise someone, I always remember someone loves and misses them.

So why would anyone celebrate the death of Kobe Bryant?

But is mentioning his actions which heavily impacted a young woman’s life celebrating his death? No. It’s a bit more complicated than that.

To gloss over certain aspects of a person’s life and to ignore their complicity in the destruction of another human’s life is reductive – yes. But what is even more reductive is to only remember that behaviour when considering the sum of someone’s life.

Bryant wasn’t just a rapist. He was someone’s husband, son, father. He was a good teammate, a leader. His absence leaves a gap in many people’s lives. His wife has to live shrouded in grief because she lost both her partner and one of her children.

And you also have to remember the millions of other children in the world who saw their future in a man who filled their dreams with possibility.

These are all the things he was and all the things we can and must remember, while also thinking deeply for and about the women who accused him of rape who must now watch her accused’s life be valourised in front of her forever when her personal truth is so, so incongruent with all the others.

Legacies are not binary in nature. They are not just good, or only bad. But the immediacy of mourning, and performative mourning on Twitter draws unnecessary and ignorant divisive lines.

In the face of tragedy, we seem to be torn between the right way of grieving and the wrong way, and it is simply not that clear-cut, because legacies are not that clear-cut.

Tragedies, like legacies, can be confronted with both admirations as well as reckoning.

Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.