February 14, 2014

The legacy of Reeva Steenkamp

Today, a year ago, on what the world calls Valentine's day, the day of love, a beautiful woman in South Africa lost her life. The beauty she held is documented not only in the good looks the world talked about, but in what she said and wrote and what family and friends recount in loving memory. Reeva Steenkamp to many was the model, the TV personality-to-be, the girlfriend of the so called blade-runner, Oscar Pistorius. In November 2012 she had first appeared publicly at his side and her words to the camera about him where carefully chosen, as makes sense at the beginning of a new relationship. After all, Reeva, whose strikingly warmhearted smile had become a trademark, had not only positive experiences in what is deemed love. She had suffered for years in an abusive relationship and had come to Johannesburg to reshape her life.

On Valentine's day 2013, barely four months after the relation had started, Reeva wanted to make the day special for her new boyfriend and for herself. But as she was not only about herself, as some might have thought, Reeva had also intended to make this a day for others, to speak about her struggle against life's odds and domestic violence to pupils at the Sandown High School in Johannesburg. She wanted to be honest about the abuse she knew and encouraging to young people and especially girls to become proud adults who would not ever be humiliated by anyone, let alone by male violence.

She never got to speak at Sandown. While staying the night at her boyfriends house she was shot dead by him shortly after 3 am in the morning, locked in a toilet cubicle where four bullets that her boyfriend shot at the door took her life.

Much has been written about this fatal moment, about how or why Oscar Pistorius drew the gun on her, on whether, as he states, this was an accident, or as the state prosecution in the charges say it was murder. The trial is set to begin on March 3. And no matter what is written or said, the answer to this will only – hopefully – come to light in the hearings. To the family and friends who loved her dearly it will be the hardest time to endure after 13 months of feeling the loss.

The woman who cared for victims of domestic violence

Reeva Steenkamp was blessed by nature with looks which made it to the cover of magazines and she knew how to strike a good pose. She was starting to develop a promising career as a model and her smile and blonde hair made everyone believe that this was what she was all about: modelling, beauty, the feminine touch. Few knew that the woman behind the poses was a hard working law-graduate about to engage in her Bar exam. With 30, a birthday to come up in August last year, she wanted to have reached her goal of being a qualified legal advocate defending the rights of those who couldn't defend themselves.

When in the Cape Province 17-year old Anene Booysen was brutally gang-raped and slashed to death by her rapists and on February 9, 2013, the teenager was laid to rest, it was Reeva who remembered her on her twitter account:

she wrote, ignoring that such a topic was not the in-thing to care for in a world of glamour and bright lights.

But the model who was the star of scene parties and always a good shot for high-key photography didn't keep in those circles in her mind. While she was fashionable and for many simply a symbol of good looks, there was a serious thinking person behind the cover the others wanted to see only. Her troubling experiences in her own relationship many years ago had made her lose her self-worth heavily. She did a lot of soul searching to remind herself of her value in the world, started to get back on her feet and work hard in a business formerly unknown to her, and while her fame rose and the offers came rolling in more and more, she never forgot that there was more to life than just good looks, fashion and partying. There was a message for the students at Sandown High that she spelled out in writing, but never got to tell them in person:
"Be brave. Always see the positive. Make your voice heard. Your physical seen. And the presence of your mental you felt. It's that culmination of your person that will leave a legacy and uplift."

A day after the funeral of Anene Booysen, on February 10, Reeva Steenkamp, once more ignoring who her followers could be on social media, wrote on her instagram account:

Little could she know that only four days later she herself would fall victim to male violence and the comfort of the happy safe home was exchanged for death.

“Reeva held a passion for women’s abuse issues and frequently spoke out against domestic violence. She intended to one day open an establishment where abused women would be cared for", her parents said in a statement a few days ago. Once the trial is over they intend to start a foundation "honouring Reeva’s passions”.

The trial is about truth and justice

After the funeral - candles in the sky
For those who loved her the trial is both a promise that the terrible time of uncertainty about what exactly happened that fateful night at Pistorius' house will finally come to an end, as well as the hope to find closure in a loss that one way or the other will stay with them for the rest of their lives. It will be a troubling time of battling emotions, and the press will take any chance to show a crying mother or a bereaved friend. That Reeva was killed is no news to them anymore. It has been reported numerous times now and fails to capture the imagination of editors who want new points of interest to catch their readers and viewers. And while to the family and friends of Reeva Steenkamp the trial will be all about her, the burning pain of having lost her and the love they forever hold for her, others will see it only as a chance to get headlines and news stories to serve a never ending hunger. It is, sadly, the way the media world works.

And yet – thinking of Reeva Steenkamp and the compassion she held for others, the hope goes out that just this time the media will tread softly and value the pain over a loss that to this day for many cannot be understood. They want this trial to happen, yes. But they don't want the frenzy that will go with it. For the family and friends this trial is about truth, about knowledge and about justice served for a woman whose smile and heart went out to so many and could have still done so much good, had her life not been cut short.

Those who loved her will do so long after the trial is over and the flashlights have found new objects of interest. Getting through it is a tribulation they endure for her and for her only. The intimacy of grief they still posses to this day is theirs, and it gives way to a vulnerability that should never be exploited. The world and the media must respect this at all costs and thus honour the legacy of Reeva Steenkamp.

The woman who showed compassion for Anene Booysen while others only wanted to see glamour deserves nothing less.

1 comment:

  1. One would like to think that in this age of truth & enlightenment, that in the end, justice & truth will prevail.You have written once again a most fantastic & remarkable piece on the late & beautiful Reeva Steenkamp & have shown great depth,insight & humanity into the whole Oscar Pistorius affair..however, unless a miracle happens & there was actually someone else present(like a would be burglar!) that fatal night, I cant see how we will ever find out what really happened. Not to sound judgemental in any way shape or form, but we have all read the newspapers at the time and seen the diagrams and it seemed a fantastical explanation of the night in question. And of course as fantastical as it may sound, it may well be the truth, but somehow, we'll never really know..
    All I can really foresee as a positive outcome to the whole sad affair is that Reeva Steenkamp's passion for women's domestic violence & abuse will be highlighted and as you say, an intended foundation honouring her name will be set up..such a waste of such a beautiful person who fought hard for justice.