South Africa is a country riddled with extreme inequality, with the gap ever increasing. Last year it was found that “South Africa’s children still face apartheid-like inequalities with a black child 18 times more likely to grow up poor than his or her white counterpart”. The report went on to describe the differences in poverty levels particularly between black and white children. The Census showed that despite the increase in the income of black households, the income of white South Africans is six times higher than black South Africans.
In light of the South African context of deep inequality, it is very necessary to thoroughly interrogate any heroic status afforded to anyone because more often than not the side of the divide you are born into determines the level of your achievements more than anything else. Many South Africans found the heroic narrative surrounding Oscar Pistorius to be catching. He was branded the “hero who inspired across the racial divide” and all else was overlooked. The media created the story of a legend, someone who overcame adversity and did it just so gloriously. The truth however is that the Pistorius story and his rise has always been one of privilege, more than achievement.
@Thabo99 tweeted that “the reality is that it is artificial to split privilege from talent. Privilege taints achievements of all who benefit from it” — a sentiment I fully agree with. As talented as he is, would Oscar have overcome his disability to compete on the world’s greatest athletic stage if he had been born a black child of unemployed parents in Dihatswane or any other village? Would Oscar have reached the top if born in Verdwaal, a place where four children died of hunger and dehydration?
Not only has the story of Oscar been one of unquestionable privilege but even in its tragic twist he continues to find himself shielded by that privilege. Not long after the story broke @sacrisis wrote that “people now increasingly killing loved ones mistaken for vicious burglars. Now crucial to assist in edu of majority to reduce crime #Oscar”. It suggests crime is high because black people are uneducated leading to whites living in such fear that they are increasingly shooting their loved ones. There were many others like it. On Facebook I was rudely greeted with a post on my friend’s wall: “About Oscar Pistorius shooting incident, I believe it’s a conspiracy hatched just to carry out a legalised genocide against Afrikaners.” Although the sentiment was strongly admonished by my friend on whose wall it was posted, the message and many others like it are out there. It is unthinkable to many that a white person is capable of violence. His privilege continues to bring us face to face with the reality that violence in South Africa is believed to have a face and that face is believed to be black and of the working class, a sentiment echoed by the deafening silence of the DA and others on the matter.
His privilege allowed his “heroic” status to overshadow that a beautiful young woman had violently lost her life. It allowed #LoveandSupportOscar to trend on Twitter despite the fact that life that had been lost at his hand.
In this single case so much of what is wrong with South Africa has come to light. With this single case we face the reality that violence against women is not a “poor, black thing” — it transcends colour and class. We face the reality of the unquestionable and never-ending privilege possessed by some. The list goes on and on. Being brought face to face with these realities is going to mean very little until as a nation we choose to confront them.
It cannot and should not be acceptable that some are more equal than others by virtue of the accident of their birth.