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Original Issue

Heavy News

In South Africa coverage of the Oscar Pistorius case reflects a nation in mourning—for a victim and a self-image

The MEDIA Circus

An American tourist who last week drove along the Garden Route in South Africa, and who tuned the radio of his rented Volkswagen to one of the few stations whose airwaves reach that verdant and mountainous stretch of coast, would have heard something like the following programming lineup: an update on Oscar Pistorius; a song by Taylor Swift; Pistorius; One Direction; a news report in Afrikaans, the only word of which an English speaker could discern being Pistorius.

On Valentine's Day the 26-year-old Olympian and double amputee fatally shot his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in his house in a gated community in Pretoria. The story has been major international news, but in his home country it has seemed like the only news—not just the top story in the nation's papers but often the lone story on their front pages. Still, despite the volume, one element is noticeably lacking in the local coverage: sensationalism. There is some, of course. REEVA'S MOM: MY BABY LOVED LIKE NO ONE ELSE, blared The Times, a tabloid offshoot of The Sunday Times, on Feb. 18. But mostly the South African media has been sober and measured in its reporting and its analysis of emerging developments. The coverage is largely devoid of the editorializing and televised bloviating that would accompany such a story elsewhere, including the U.S.

There are two central reasons for this. One is that South Africa does not have much of a tabloid culture, perhaps because it has only had a free press—and, really, a country, as presently constituted—since apartheid's dismantling in the early 1990s. The second is that the prevailing mood regarding the case is neither titillation nor perverse curiosity, but a deep sadness.

There is specific sadness for Steenkamp, who lost her life at 29, and for her family and for the fall of Pistorius too. (He was released on bail last Friday; his next court appearance will be in June.) But there is a more generalized sadness because of what Pistorius had come to symbolize, which is South Africa itself and its hopes for the future. He, like his country, had overcome an unthinkable handicap, and he had achieved a level of international admiration to which South Africa as a whole aspires. He was one of the few people who was a hero to every segment of a still-troubled nation.

The striking front page of the Feb. 20 Cape Times demonstrates what has become of that. Above the fold is little but a full-color photo of Pistorius, standing alone and downcast, looking slightly disheveled, in a Pretoria courtroom. Behind him in the gallery are some 20 of his fellow South Africans, white and black, men and women, all grim-faced. HOW I KILLED REEVA reads the headline of the accompanying article, which is simply a transcript of the affidavit Pistorius submitted to the court, giving his version of events that night.

There are, South Africa has been reminded, no heroes. There are only humans.


"I was more concerned with my sports bra staying on."

RONDA ROUSEY(top), on whether she was worried by the aggressive ground attack of Liz Carmouche, whom she went on to defeat by submission in the first women's UFC fight, last Saturday night in Anaheim.

Career Coach

Perusing the résumé of a baseball Renaissance man

And the new athletic director at Sacred Heart will be ... Bobby Valentine? Don't laugh. In addition to gigs as a major league player and manager—including an ugly 2012 at the helm of the Red Sox—the peripatetic Stamford, Conn., native has been a restaurateur, an inventor, a public official and, notoriously, a master of disguise. Herewith, highlights from the CV of Bobby V.

1982 Claims he invented the wrap sandwich at his eponymous Stamford restaurant

1999 Returns to dugout after his ejection wearing a fake mustache, sunglasses and a mets T-shirt

2005 In second stint with the Chiba Lotte Marines, leads club to its first Japan Series victory in 31 years

2011 Named Stamford's director of public safety; later calls a game in Texas for ESPN during Hurricane Irene