On race, people are largely defensive, on sexuality, offensive. This attitude or approach has tended to stifle progress, whether on a personal level or on a larger social level. Those of us who write social commentary often receive the backlash on the issues we raise. As a commentator and political analyst, Eusebius McKaiser is well accustomed with this terrain, and in his new book A Bantu in My Bathroom, tackles the issues with that familiarity.

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She suffers from severe arthritis and for the duration of the trial she sat on an orthopaedic chair, much smaller than the vast leather seats of the two assessors on either side.

Depending on your opinion of her final judgment, Judge Masipa was either uniquely qualified for or unsuited to her task. As is well known, she found Pistorius not guilty of murder but guilty of culpable homicide — the equivalent of manslaughter in Anglo-American law. Many of those accusing her spoke in the name of justice for women. Judge Masipa is a latecomer to the law, having undertaken her pupillage in her forties.

Admitted as an advocate in as one of only three black women at the Johannesburg bar, she was appointed judge in the Transvaal Provincial Division of the High Court of South Africa in , the second black woman to be appointed to the bench.

Despite her ruling in the Pistorius case Judge Masipa is known for the maximum sentences she metes out in cases involving violence against women. Judge Masipa knows about violence. She was born in Soweto, in a family of ten children, four of whom died young, one of them stabbed to death by unknown perpetrators when he was She has, as one could say, done her time.

She knows what it means to be on the wrong side of the law even if the law itself in apartheid South Africa was wrong. In the s she was a crime reporter for the World, a paper banned in by the justice minister Jimmy Kruger, and then for the white-owned newspaper the Post. There, she marched in protest with female colleagues against the arrest of black male reporters.

Before releasing the prisoners for a court appearance, four white court wardens demanded they clean out their toilets — shoving their faces in it, as one might say they refused. She brings her history, the racial history of South Africa, into court. But not everyone understands that. You must not worry about the regulations. That is my responsibility. Like a psychoanalyst, she should have put her empathy, her preferences, even her own history to one side though it is arguable whether this is what a psychoanalyst can, or should, do.

But what does it mean to talk of the still, calm voice of the law in conditions of rampant racial and sexual violence and inequality? On 2 February , less than two weeks before Reeva Steenkamp was killed, a year-old girl, Anene Booysen, was raped and murdered in Western Cape.

Steenkamp saw things rather differently. For her, violence against women knew no racial bounds. Not everyone did. Speak out against the rape of individuals. In the final year of her law degree, Steenkamp broke her back in a riding accident. On recovery, she returned to complete her degree and resolved to pursue her dream of becoming a model in the big city.

The law would become the invisible companion of her ambition, the joint riposte to a life that could have been — nearly was — spent in a wheelchair. Was Steenkamp prey to a fatal identification?

One of the most striking things about this trial is that wherever you look you see bodies that are broken. In fact, he recovered speedily enough to make it into the courtroom in a wheelchair in time for the verdict.

It was never in question that Oscar Pistorius had fired the four shots that killed Reeva Steenkamp. He had. What was going on inside the mind of Pistorius when he shot through the bathroom door? Everything hung on that question. Did he know he was shooting Reeva Steenkamp? Or did he believe it was an intruder, as he claimed more or less from the moment it happened, including to the friends and the police who were the first at the scene of the crime? And if we believe him, then did he know he might kill the person on the other side of the door and shoot anyway?

He is known for being provocative and likes to challenge South Africans to confront their darkest thoughts.

In , 18 years after the end of apartheid, he was looking for a room to rent and lighted on an advertisement from a woman willing to share her house but only, the ad stipulated, with a white person. When he related the incident to the audience of his weekly radio programme, Politics and Morality on Talk Radio , two responses predominated.

There is a Bantu in my bathroom! What was largely unspoken was that in the second case we can be more or less certain that the person killed in the bathroom would be — could only be — imagined as black. Because whoever Pistorius thought was behind that door, firing at such close range meant that when he finished there would be a body on that bathroom floor.

Depending on how you look at it, the killing of Reeva Steenkamp was either a sex crime or a race crime. Clearly he did not subjectively foresee this as a possibility that he would kill the person behind the door, let alone the deceased, as he thought she was in the bedroom at the time. The Bantu slips syntactically under the bathroom door. To illustrate the insane lengths to which this project could be taken, Gevisser gives the example of the ten-foot-high fence built by the apartheid authorities across the rocky promontory off the shore of Cape Town where gay men of different races would congregate in the s.

There is a politics of water and there is a politics of shit. All the more remarkable, then, as Gevisser observes, were those who carried their anti-apartheid struggle not just into the privacy of their homes, but into the water, allowing bodies to swim, touch and mix against the brute, squeamish hand of the law.

The analogy is eloquent. Like a foul river, bringing pestilence, the killing in the bathroom both enacted and drew to the surface of the national psyche its deepest racial fears.

Some excuse, we might say. At the very least, even if this defence stands, he can hardly be held to be innocent. It is here that we move into the realm of speculation and dream, where the law hits the buffer of what is at once screaming out for our attention and cannot be known.

Legally she is of course right, as Masipa dismissed the charge of premeditated murder on the grounds that his intention to kill Steenkamp had not been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

Why, when Pistorius heard the bathroom window opening, as he claimed, did he not ascertain from the deceased, when he heard the window open, whether she too had heard anything? Why did he not ascertain whether the deceased had heard him since he did not get a response from the deceased before making his way to the bathroom? Why did the deceased, in the toilet and only a few metres away from the accused, not communicate with the accused, or phone the police as requested by the accused?

To which we can add the questions of Gerrie Nel, leading for the prosecution, and those of the judge at the original bail hearing. Why would someone who slept with a firearm under his bed, and was apparently fearful of crime, fall asleep with a sliding door to the balcony wide open? Although Pistorius claimed he had been the victim of violence and burglaries, there was no police record of his having been the victim of a crime.

Why did the accused not ascertain the whereabouts of his girlfriend when he got out of bed? Why did he not even try to find out who exactly was in the toilet? Steenkamp was shot at B, by Pistorius at A. The police who arrived on the scene made no bones about the fact they believed the intruder story to be fake. For anyone who reads this killing through the prism of domestic violence, and on behalf of the legions of women who have been its target, one question surely stands out from all the rest.

Why — as Pistorius always insisted — did Steenkamp not speak or cry out, not from the bedroom if that is where she was, or from the toilet? Why, the whole time he was screaming, even when he was in the bathroom, did she not utter a word? A dead woman becomes a silent witness in the courtroom, voiceless now, voiceless then. Twice over, Pistorius silenced Reeva Steenkamp, turned her into a ghost.

This question of voice produced one of the most extraordinary and unanticipated turns of the trial. Four neighbours — Estelle van der Merwe, Johan Stipp, Michele Burger and her husband Charl Johnson — testified that they heard the unmistakeable voice of a woman before the shots were fired: a woman, more than one of them insisted, who sounded as if she feared for her life. Their testimony was finally dismissed as inconclusive largely owing to inconsistencies in timing.

The argument for the defence was that the cries they heard came after, not before, the fatal shots were fired, and were those of Pistorius as what he had done dawned on him: establishing the timeline between screaming and shooting was crucial to the argument, as was the assertion that Steenkamp would have been so badly — probably fatally — wounded after the first shot that she would have been incapable of making any sound.

But if there was screaming before the shots, how to see off the charge that it could have been her voice? At this point the trial suddenly turned on its head the perfect heterosexual narrative which accounts for so much of the seductive pull of this case. When he screams, the defence claimed, Oscar Pistorius — blade runner, stud, hero — sounds like a woman. He also announced that decibel tests and an expert witness would establish that when Pistorius is anxious, he screams like a woman.

In fact no such testimony was ever laid before the court and no audio of Pistorius screaming was ever played. Better to sound like a woman than to have murdered one. Better a cross-gender identification than a lethal masculinity on that much, feminism, and not only feminism, would surely agree. To save his skin, Oscar Pistorius ventriloquised a woman, or was led by his legal team to do so. He took her place. Behind what might be seen as a moment of unanticipated and welcome gender confusion — since gender confusion is always, or nearly always, to be welcomed — we might also, or rather, see a man going to the furthest lengths he can go, including sacrificing the image of himself as a man, to make absolutely sure that no one hears the voice of a woman crying out in fear for her life.

But there are forms of gender uncertainty which add insult to injury and one of the most glaring instances I have come across was on display at this trial. We know that for the ANC women protesting outside the court and for women the world over, this case bore the unmistakeable signs of lethal domestic violence even if Steenkamp and Pistorius did not strictly share a home. We know that what often appears to be, indeed might be, the most intimate, loving relationship can fail to protect women.

We know that passionate attachment can involve hatred, that, as many women discover too late, sex is often the bedfellow of crime — though I am not a feminist who believes that all men, simply by dint of being men, are violent towards women. You know I cannot run away. I cannot run away.

Not abuse … That constant reminder … I am not the same … He can pretend … he can pretend that he is fine … because of the anxiety … it is in that sense that I say the abuse is different, but it is the same. Without legs, abuse, abuse, abuse. So ultimately when that woman picks up that firearm … we can use the common word, I have had enough, I am not shooting you because you have just assaulted me, not because of one punch with a fist in my face.

I would never have shot you because of one punch with a fist in my face, but if you have done it sixty, seventy times, that effect of that over time it filled the cup to the brim that is … in that sense, My Lady.

This almost defies comment, but not quite. Neither the evidence of a loving relationship, nor of a relationship turned sour can assist this court to determine whether the accused had the requisite intention to kill the deceased.

For that reason the court refrains from making inferences one way or another in this regard. Here is another.


A Bantu in my Bathroom

She suffers from severe arthritis and for the duration of the trial she sat on an orthopaedic chair, much smaller than the vast leather seats of the two assessors on either side. Depending on your opinion of her final judgment, Judge Masipa was either uniquely qualified for or unsuited to her task. As is well known, she found Pistorius not guilty of murder but guilty of culpable homicide — the equivalent of manslaughter in Anglo-American law. Many of those accusing her spoke in the name of justice for women.



Known as an iconoclast and a provocateur, McKaiser relished this reaction, promptly starting off his talk by questioning the assumption that Rhodes is perceived as being the most liberal campus in South Africa. Ironically, this stance remained uncontested during the question and answer session. McKaiser grew up in Grahamstown and went to school at Graeme College. After obtaining a prestigious international Rhodes scholarship, he spent time at Oxford University working with Prof John Broome, researching whether or not people are morally responsible for their beliefs; a debate which he continues to explore to this day. Since then he has enjoyed a stint as host for Talk Radio and used to write a blog for The New York Times, with a column currently running in The Star. My English teacher used to tell me that the most compelling way to write is to write from experience but I was young and thought it was more impressive to use big words, which some of the more stupid teachers gave me high marks for.


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