It was inevitable that parallels would be drawn between the ongoing Oscar Pistorius drama and the O.J. Simpson trial, which hogged headlines the world over in the mid-1990s.
But there is one fundamental differences between the two cases that is, in my opinion, even more significant than the admittedly numerous similarities.
Yes, O.J. Simpson, a legendary all-American footballer, was a record-breaking star athlete who acquired iconic status in his country and beyond.
And so is Pistorius, a double amputee and Olympian whose courageous triumph over tragedy and unique achievements as a disabled sprinter have earned him acclaim internationally as well as in his native South Africa.
Yes, O.J. Simpson had a penchant for va-va-voom blondes. And so does Pistorius. Yes, both men went from hero to zero in eyes of legions of former fans when they were accused of slaughtering, in cold blood, women who played key roles in their lives – Nicole Brown, the mother of his children in Simpson’s case, Reeva Steenkamp, a current girlfriend in Pistorius’s.
Yes, both dramas sent shockwaves across the globe and were closely monitored by millions (more than half of America’s population watched the Simpson verdict on TV; and I don’t know anyone who has not taken a keen and almost ghoulish interest in the blow-by-blow details of Pistorius’s travails).
Yes, when Simpson was acquitted of killing Brown despite the existence of hard evidence that he was an unrepentant and brutal wife-beater, many people angrily expressed the view that he had received special treatment because of his celebrity status.
Ditto Pistorius when he made bail last week, even though he had the money, means and motive to flee if released, and despite widespread skepticism about his claim that he shot Steenkamp by accident, assuming she had been a burglar.
Even Desmond Nair, the magistrate who presided over the hearing and gifted Pistorius a Get Out Of Jail card, said he found it difficult to understand Pistorius’s actions and asked why, for example, Pistorius didn’t try to locate the lover who was spending the night in his home before he fired at the door of the bathroom in which he said he thought an intruder was hiding.
According to Troy Martens of the African National Congress Women’s League: “Some men in court…jumped up and celebrated the granting of bail as if they had won a trophy, forgetting that an innocent woman has lost her life.”
Professor Rachel Jewkes, director of the gender and health research unit at the South African Medical Research Council, was also extremely disappointed by the leniency displayed towards Pistorius:
“This,” she said, “sends exactly the opposite message to what we want. It shows that the [South African] courts do not take gender violence seriously…”
And yes, almost identical criticisms were leveled at the legal authorities and Simpson’s elated supporters in the aftermath of his controversial acquittal.
There is, however, one very important element that sharply differentiates the 2 scenarios and hasn’t, to the best of my knowledge, been discussed in any serious forum within or outside the African continent: The racial factor.