Oscar Pistorius: Unhappy is the land that needs heroes

Paul Trewhela says that if ever there is a country with a propensity to create a doom-laden hero it is South Africa

Thoughts on the death of Reeva Steenkamp

"Unhappy the land that needs heroes", says Galileo in Brecht's play, words placed by the author in the mouth of the scientist who challenged the Inquisition.

If ever there was an unhappy land with its propensity to create the doom-laden hero - or heroine - think of South Africa.

If there is a parallel to the fall from grace of Oscar Pistorius at the most spectacular national and international dimension, think then of Mama waAfrika: Winnie Mandela, subsequently downgraded or degraded in her own and the public consciousness to having to add her maiden name behind that of her former husband.

The hard, harsh rockbed of South Africa's formation as a unitary society - reefed with conflict, and saturated with violence as at Marikana or any number of massacre sites with their famous names - creates the heroic individual whose outstanding courage and determination against adversity lifts that individual out of the ordinary. South Africa, and shortly afterwards the world, then places a halo of secular sainthood or even deity upon this brave, talented, flawed mortal being, in whose iconic status a pained society wishes to seek its own redemption, or even absolution.

But in addition to this person's own individual demons inhabiting all of us from childhood in one way or another, and to greater or lesser degree, this society then adds the effects of its ingrained culture of violence.

Despite (or because of) all this, the secular cult of celebrity, with its mask of sanctity, then lifts up this flawed person to a belief in her or his almost superhuman status, superior to law and to ordinary human morality.

As with the murder of Stompie, and Lolo Sono and Siboniso Tshabalala in Soweto, so the violent death of Reeva Steenkamp in Pretoria and the murder charge against Oscar Pistorius are a morality tale for our times. In the manner of a Greek tragedy, the elevation of a tragic hero to the pinnacle of hubris creates the hero's own nemesis.

Poor Reeva Steenkamp, another horrible South African statistic of death.

Poor Oscar Pistorius.

Unhappy the land that needs heroes.

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