Cheater, Cheetah

13th April 2014

I have watched a cheetah hunting, once, in South Africa. It was a beautiful sight. The stalk, the strategy, the crouch, and then, timed by some inner wizardry, the explosive burst of speed as he towered down upon his prey.

The cheetah can only run for so long. The cost of speed is measured in limited duration of chase. He must kill before soon. Or else all is lost. Or else, the cheetah goes hungry.

Before the moment when he ‘shot and killed’ his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, the only association I had with Oscar Pistorius was a beautiful photograph which depicted him as a post-human being: body of a man, legs of a cheetah.

In a photogenic pose taken at the moth hour, he is crouched – proud, inscrutable, and facing a real, live cheetah. The prosthetic limbs used by Pistorius are a marvel of carbon fibre science – themselves named cheetahs.

For me, this was a man from another dimension – unassailable in his otherness.

And then the dark drew in.

Yes. This week, Oscar Pistorius has undergone cross-examination of such a withering, raw nature that he has pretty much run out of breath. The hunter has become the hunted.

I am struck by how steadfast our desire to believe in dreams are, under pressure. For quite some time, I simply hoped his story – one of a terrible mistake, believing his girlfriend to be a violent intruder – was true. We each nurse a deep desire to ascribe positive motive to negative events. Indeed, this is a cornerstone of most religions.

But the glare of logic shakes vain hope, and shakes it out to dry.

Pistorius, I have accepted, is lying on the witness stand. Through his teeth, he lies and lies and lies. He claims to be tormented by the memory of what happened that night, but actually the real source of his torment is one Gerrie Nel, state prosecutor.

Known as ‘the bulldog’ for his determination to expose truth, Nel has sliced and diced Oscar’s fable to ribbons, gathering all the details in service of one central thesis: Pistorius’ account of what happened is so outlandish as to be improbable. His version simply did not happen.

Oscar Pistorius finds himself trapped in a tangled web of his own invention. He has forgotten the first rule of espionage: to survive interrogation, tell the truth (just not the whole truth). Within lies, we collapse under weight of our own creation. Things simply never add up.

On my return from South Africa I was temporarily captivated by the cheetah. Its beauty, its determination, its grace – even though the chase I witnessed turned out to have failed. Apparently they have only 40%-50% strike rate when hunting, a figure considered low for the big cats. The gazelle, on that occasion, managed to escape.

On meandering through details of the cheetah’s gloried being, I discovered another, somehow less palatable truth. It turns out that the cheetah, too, has predators. It too is hunted down. Killed. By the Nile crocodile; male lion; leopard; hyena.

That image of Oscar Pistorius I had known before he shot and killed a woman was nothing but a dream. Not of a man, but of a symbol. For there are no linear, simple narratives in the world. This is a law of nature. And the nature of law.

© Brian McIntyre. April 2014


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