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March 3, 2014

The Pistorius Trial (And Celebrity) Sickens Me

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The trial of Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius, who allegedly accidentally shot and killed his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, starts today. I have a feeling of dread about it.

Perhaps it is because, as a member of the media, I'm going to be covering it closely for the expected duration of the trial. I feel much sympathy, though, for those journalists who are not blessed with online work and are - as I wrote this last night - camped outside the North Gauteng Court prepping their equipment and probably gorging themselves on piping hot coffee on such a cold evening just to keep their sanity.

Perhaps it is this media frenzy that sickens me. I agree that Oscar is a global icon - he was an inspiration for many before and after being the first paraplegic to compete against able-bodied athletes in the Olympic Games - but it saddens me that there are at least 43 murders in South Africa every day, and yet this trial is singled-out for 24-hour broadcast, the gathering of statements and opinions of dozens of law experts - including the likes of Robert Shapiro, American footballer OJ Simpson's defense attorney, and the trial by television and Twitter that will inevitably follow such elaborate coverage.

I certainly understand that the crazed attention has to do with the fact that Pistorius is a public personality, and that the coverage of a high-profile trial such as this one will help to educate South Africans about the legal and justice system of the country. However, I think there are most definitely things more important people should be concerned about.

I've heard a saying recently that the reason bad men prevail is because most people have absolute knowledge about how many goals their football team scored last night, or whether Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt are married yet, but have no idea how the politics of their country works, who's actually in charge of it, where the money is going, and what is planned for the country as a whole. It is the age-old debate of the importance of celebrity and popular culture to the population. I think an important part of this popular culture is to distract - Oscar Pistorius is a distraction (for those able to afford DStv and view the 24-hour channel, and for those who can afford Internet connections and newspapers) from issues such as the escalation of service delivery protests, the obvious and seemingly catastrophic changes to global weather systems, the current military action by Russia on the Ukraine, the mass rape and murder of our young children, and even Nkandla itself will no longer be an issue. All eyes will be on the Pistorius trial for the immediate future.

What concerns me about this situation is that, while South Africa's middle-class - who hold the economic muscle in the country - watch Twitter, Facebook, DStv, SABC, eNCA, and whoever else is covering the 'event' with bated breath to hear word-by-word, moment-by-moment, what is taking place in the courtroom, and those journalists who usually cover the news are seated tweeting and updating websites with up-to-the-minute action from the trial, important occurrences might be missed. What will be able to be swept under the carpet as the nation's eyes are glued to Oscar? How many more protesters will be killed by police? How many more teens will be killed in apparent rituals? How many more young children will be sexually assaulted as they attend a church service?

And on the eve of Oscar's trial, the world is distracted by an Oscar of a different sort - the Academy Awards absorb the attention of the world as the elite pat each other on their backs for their talents while the citizens of the Ukraine are most likely planning how best to escape possible death at the hands of Russia. Or vice versa.

This while people who can hardly afford a loaf of bread a day have only the strength to look forward one more day, to make it one more day.

{Image source: Wikimedia Commons\David Jones}