Updated 16 October 2014

Is Oscar really a ‘broken man’?

Cybershrink is nauseated by the defence's insistence that Oscar is a 'broken man'.


If I hear one more reference to Oscar as “broken” I, myself, may need to grab the green plastic bucket. It typifies the inflammatory, way over-the-top, hysterical exaggeration that the defence has used throughout the case. The procession of deeply flawed witnesses continues . . . 

Absurd romanticising

Dr Harzenberg spoke like a dedicated Pistorian, and not at all like an experienced therapist. Her voice trembled with passion and emotion, and she embraced Oscar’s views totally and uncritically. Ridiculously, she blamed “the media” for doing terrible damage to Oscar, and even worse, she effectively blamed Reeva’s grieving parents for not accommodating Oscar, ignoring their needs and suffering. It’s also absolute nonsense to say “he wasn’t allowed to grieve”.

Read: How do you deal with grief?

Equally repulsive was her absurd romanticising of the poignancy of seeing Oscar take off his prosthetic legs, as though this was a uniquely tragic sight – there’s actually loads of videos online of him popping them on and off in public on various athletic fields.

More drivel from van Zyl

By banging his own drum and telling the whole world what a great job he did for Oscar (and indeed he did), manager, Peet van Zyl, is clearly casting out his net for employment and broadcasting the fact that he’s now available to perform the same services for others.  

It’s a fact that most of the “good deeds” Oscar performed were conceived and arranged by Van Zyl. However, having nice pictures taken with cute kids, is publicity, not philanthropy.

The tragic tale of how he lost sponsorships is irrelevant and entirely his own fault. It’s like a man who murders his wife, then asks for leniency because he misses her lovely cooking and sexual services.

Read: Useful techniques in bereavement counselling

What does it mean when these social workers recommend trauma counselling as a condition of sentence? He already has his own “nursemaid”. Wouldn’t this just mean that she’d be paid by the state (which means all of us), rather than privately?

Yet another ‘expert’

Annette Vergeer is the fourth witness called by the defence team to convince the judge of the sorry state of Oscar. She is being paid by the defence for her “expert opinion”.

This lady, with a highly dramatic hairdo, sat in front of Oscar throughout the day, fidgeting, and clearly visible to all viewers. Strange, though, that she requested that her image not be shown while testifying. A bit late! And the hairdo wasn’t awful enough that it needed to be censored either.

Her Facebook page shows she likes Bok van Blerk and Steve Hofmeyr. Hmm!

She was persistently and stubbornly evasive in her irritating sing-song voice. She showed strategic memory problems when challenged, wasting much time by not knowing her way round even her own report. She claimed she couldn’t remember even her recent evidence in other cases.

Read: SA prisons breed TB

The lady has quite a history of providing highly sympathetic reports for rather nasty people and crimes. She testified for Jub Jub, convicted of murder, telling the court that ”remorse can’t be measured”, that prisons were “often” dreadfully overcrowded and she recommended correctional supervision.

In the case of the schoolboy who killed another boy with a samurai sword, she urged that he receive special prison facilities and assistance with his studies.

Platitudes and generalities

Then there was Mokgoro, who beat his wife into a brain-damaged vegetative state – but Vergeer emphasized that he was a first-time offender (nice to know he hadn’t destroyed the brains of any previous wives) and no danger to society. She recommended house arrest and community service. 

Read: Deal with stress

And there was the policeman who shot dead his girlfriend’s mother and seriously injured the girl-friend, their son, and another boy. She emphasized what a hard-working guy he was, and how much stress he had to endure at work. 

Much of what she uttered was platitudes and generalities, and she fell apart when asked to be more specific. Every single factor she cites as a reason why Oscar shouldn’t go to jail boils down to either an argument that he should receive special privileges, or that nobody should ever be sentenced to prison, whatever their crime. She also pronounced on the dreadful state of prisons, though she’d only ever briefly visited two.

Contradictory and sometimes frankly cheeky, and deliberately ignoring questions, she dismissed vitally important issues as “legal technicalities”. She refused to engage issues central to her role, saying “I can’t take into account . . . something not in my field of expertise”, but it was hard to see what her expertise really is. 

Gang rape?

Her experience doesn’t count for much either, confirming the old adage that some of us have 28 years of experience, and some of us have had 1 year of experience, 28 times.  

She insisted that no prison in the country has a bath, and that not a single one has a shower with a hand-rail (fitting one would clearly be impossible). In one of her lurid claims, she warned that Oscar, (unlike other prisoners?) would be unable to avoid gang rape. She is also convinced his prostheses would be taken from him, and that nobody could prevent this, unless they could be glued to him. 

Read: Is it worth sending Oscar to jail?

Notice too her elitism. She insists the courts must never give society what the people want, but only “what society needs”, which means whatever the judge and the probation officer think we should get.

She did, however, point out in one of her rare accurate claims, that there is no good evidence that time in prison achieves rehabilitation or other benefits, of course carefully overlooking the fact that there is even less evidence that probation or “correctional supervision” has any real benefits. 

Read more:

Oscar has never shown any real remorse

What if Oscar Pistorius goes to jail?
Ex-girlfriend slams Oscar as violent maniac

Image: Green bucket from Shutterstock

Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.




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