The meteoric rise and fall of a hero
Cape Town - It was a quiet weekday evening in the pretty Silver Woods estate in the east of Pretoria. Able to afford as much as R9 million for their splendid homes set in a nature reserve, the estate’s residents pay for serenity.
But Bush Willow Street residents had their expensive silence broken at around 8pm on Wednesday by the unmistakeable sounds of a domestic argument.
Their neighbour, Oscar Pistorius, was at home with his beautiful girlfriend. But it was clear there was unhappiness on the night before Valentine’s Day. Allegations are that the on-and-off noise of an apparently protracted argument would go on for hours until neighbours finally called security and the police about 1am.
Police had been summoned on other occasions, with Brigadier Denise Beukes confirming to the media that there had been previous “incidents” at Pistorius’s home.
But if this wasn’t the first time neighbours had heard a fight play out at the address of the 26-year-old global hero, it would certainly be the last.
Beeld claims that about seven hours after the first sounds of a fight were heard, there were four shots, heard clearly by the neighbours, and Steenkamp lay dead.
The 29-year-old, who had been Pistorius’s girlfriend for only about three months, is said to have been hit in the head, chest, hand and pelvic area. His wonderful life fell apart.
A picture of the couple on their first date last November went around the world this week. They were standing on the red carpet at the South African Sports Awards, and Steenkamp – the face of Avon cosmetics – was sweetly radiant. Pistorius looked delighted with her.
But the background to that picture had its shadows.
Pistorius’s friend, Daytona Group chief executive Justin Divaris, told The Star last week that he introduced Steenkamp and Pistorius at the races at Kyalami. “The connection was so strong,” he said, that Pistorius took her as his date to the awards that very night. This was apparently in spite of the fact that the athlete had a girlfriend at the time.
Samantha Taylor immediately went public, calling him a love cheat and questioning his honesty. There had also been rumours that he was seeing a Russian supermodel while he and Taylor were together. But it seemed Pistorius was smitten with Steenkamp, and soon they were in a relationship.
The horror of her death has been almost overshadowed by the international disbelief that Pistorius could have been responsible.
The fairy tale began nearly 10 years ago when he won a gold medal at the Paralympics in Athens in 2004 when he was just a teenager. It was a day he called “the most amazing… in my life”.
At the time, he was still dating his childhood girlfriend, Vicky Miles.
So compelling were Pistorius’s achievements that then-President Thabo Mbeki conferred the Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze on the star in 2006. The following year, the BBC gave him its Sports Personality of the Year Helen Rollason Award, named for courage.
There was so much more to come. Time magazine’s top 100 list of 2008 included Pistorius as one of the world’s three greatest heroes. And in the same year, his overwhelming self-belief allowed him to take on the mighty Court of Arbitration for Sport, where he won a hard-fought case to be able to run against able-bodied athletes.
With that unexpected victory, the world again declared him a hero. But a year later, it seemed things had started to unravel.
Despite serious facial injuries from a boat accident on the Vaal River which left him in a coma, Pistorius was the subject of a police docket into reckless and negligent driving.
Then he made headlines after he apparently stopped Beeld from taking pictures of him when one of his business managers was involved in an accident in which a pedestrian died. Reports said Pistorius refused requests for pictures by using his fame as a reason.
He was also arrested and kept in a general holding cell for 17 hours in 2009 when a young Pretoria woman, Cassidy Taylor-Memmory, charged him with assault. She claimed he had slammed and broken the front door of his home on her, injuring her leg. He said she had been drunk and was kicking the door.
Pistorius hit back with a multi-million rand lawsuit against the 19-year-old for the humiliation and discomfort he said he had experienced as a result of her charge.
And there was plenty of support for Pistorius. In a Saturday Star report at the time, Frans Stander, the estate’s general manager, was quoted, saying: “Oscar is the most decent man you will ever meet in your life.
“He treats everyone with so much respect, and I have never received a complaint about him since he has been living here.”
The pair would have been back in court on Wednesday this week, but the case has now been postponed.
It was last year that was the most extraordinary of Pistorius’s young life. Following his part in South Africa winning silver in the relay at the 2011 World Championships, he became the first amputee to earn an able-bodied world track medal.
Just 12 months ago he was in London, celebrating winning the Laureus World Sports Award for Sports-person of the Year with a Disability.
The warmth people everywhere felt for Pistorius was exemplified by the town of Gemona in Italy, which dedicated a huge mural to him. The Italians had a special love for the athlete, with him appearing on an Italian Celebrity Survivor, and on its version of Dancing with the Stars.
Then came Sascoc’s announcement on July 4: Pistorius had been included in the team for the London Olympics. He was elated. The country was delighted. He had at last realised his ultimate dream to be the first amputee to take part, and he boldly entered the men’s 400m while also being a member of the 400m relay team.
And that was not the only joy. The high of going to the Olympics, one for which Pistorius had fought so desperately, was almost outdone by his performance at the Summer Paralympics, where he won gold medals in the 400m in a Paralympic record time, and in the 100m relay. The relay was astonishing. The team finished in a world record time of 41.78 seconds. And Pistorius also won a silver medal in the 200m race, having earned another world record in the semi-final.
It was no wonder everyone, including Jay Leno and Piers Morgan, wanted to talk to him, to understand what lay inside such a remarkable achiever. The world applauded. There were other honours, including an honorary doctorate from the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow.
But there was none of that in court on Friday, when Pistorius covered his face with his hands as he wept – alone in a crush of people, all with their eyes on him. No longer the shining hero, but the murder suspect.
“I was born the way I am with a purpose,” he said in an interview at the University of Pretoria in 2008. That’s why I would still choose not to have legs. I’m happy with my life and I think God has a bigger purpose for me. Things happen for a reason. By the time I’m 50, I hope to be married with a family, dog and white picket fence.” Pistorius’s hopes are perhaps, now entirely out of reach. - Sunday Argus