The tragic death of Reeva Steenkamp, the model and law school graduate, has brought into focus a host of clichés about big time sports, the rise and fall of heroes, the link between domestic violence and the proliferation of guns, and the emergence of post-apartheid South Africa as one of the world’s most violent countries. Steenkamp was shot by her boyfriend, Oscar Pistorius, the sprinter who was born with no fibula and became the first double amputee in Olympic history. His inspiring story of rising above adversity to become a hero to millions has become the all-too-familiar sports story of those we lionize turning into clay. But this story has an extra dimension: the level of violent crime in South Africa and the image of white people barricaded in their houses at night, armed to the teeth. It is an image that sits uncomfortably with that of a country that overcame the most oppressive colonialism and racial apartheid to itself become an inspiration for a continent. Is this too in question?
No. Last month 27-year-old Pretty Yende made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera. That a young black woman could come from a South African township to one of the world’s largest stages would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Her triumph, though, is not only personal because her voice really is a gift to the world. Perhaps we look in the wrong places for hope and inspiration. It is in art that we find the beauty that expresses our common humanity.