Counsel to the former paralympian raised concerns about the violation perpetrated against his client, prior to the new four part document aired to a global audience by Amazon. There is a renewed legal supplication that the challenged athlete be treated with leniency.
After more than five years after athlete Oscar Pistorius murdered his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, a new documentary series by acclaimed Welsh-born director Vaughan Sivell ties the Olympic and Paralympic athlete’s rise, fall, and killing of Steenkamp to South Africa’s struggle to overcome the profound damage caused by apartheid, and the enduring legacy of injustice.
Pistorius is divided into four hour-long parts, and debuts to a global audience on Amazon Prime Video on Thursday, 6 September – nearly three years after Sivell and producers Will Kane, and Sean Richard first undertook the daunting task of telling a story that had played out in real time in the international media arena. CNN. Sky. BBC. South Africa, America, everywhere. What’s more, a South African TV channel had been dedicated to the Pistorius murder case, allowing the public to follow every second of the trial and listen live to the testimony of detectives, forensic experts, ex-girlfriends, and later Pistorius himself. A legitimate question then when new documentaries, films or books about Steenkamp’s murder and Pistorius are announced: “What does it propose to tell us that we don’t already know?”
That’s what bothers this writer when she first hears of the docu-series, and it’s also what put Sivell off before he started work on the project. But, he says, he found what he thought was a good angle to bring something new to the story – or rather, the way the story is told – by way of metaphor. As such, the series positions Pistorius as a metaphor for post-apartheid South Africa.
“I had the idea, or it struck me rather, that it is particularly poignant that Oscar Pistorius the man, and South Africa, the new South Africa, were born within a very few years of each other. They were both born with incredible challenges that they overcame to become the Rainbow Nation under (President Nelson) Mandela, and Oscar Pistorius the iconic athlete.”
(A YOUNG OSCAR: A childhood photo of Oscar Pistorius. Photo: Supplied/Amazon)
In Sivell’s director’s statement, he writes: “The human story of Oscar Pistorius, and the human story of South Africa since apartheid ended, are, to me, so intertwined that to tell one without the other would not be the truth.”
“Both the country and the man,” Sivell says later, “really did come crashing down.” In Pistorius’ case, he killed his girlfriend in the early hours of Valentine’s Day 2013 and was eventually convicted of murder by the South African Court of Appeal in December 2015. In the case of South Africa, the legacy of apartheid sustains racial tensions, and incredible economic and social inequality, while corruption plagues crumbling state institutions and violent crime persist.
Sivell’s metaphor approach is similar to a strategy of Pistorius’ defense team, which saw Advocate Barry Roux blaming a culture of violence for Pistorius’ extreme fear of intruders and the events that followed. [Pistorius maintained throughout the trial that he thought he had shot an intruder, and not Steenkamp.]
(OSCAR’S SIBLING: Oscar’s sister Aimée Pistorius is interviewed in the documentary. Photo: Supplied/Amazon)
Sivell, who says that he was inspired by the scope and scale of the award-winning documentary series, O.J.: Made in America, admits that this is not the kind of story that he’s naturally drawn to. “But,” he adds, “it’s just such a compelling story. It’s so sad. It’s such a waste of life, not just for Reeva, obviously, the tragedy for her and her family who never get to see her again, but Oscar’s life was also wiped away at that moment.”
It was sometimes difficult not to get emotional and personally affected, says Sivell. Especially because of the lengthy production process of the docu-series – editing took more than a year. “We’re proud of it, of course, but we’re glad to have finished.”