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Oscar Pistorius, foreground, stands after his Feb. 19 bail hearing in Pretoria as his brother, Carl, middle, and father, Henke, right, look on. (Masi Losi/AP)
Oscar Pistorius, foreground, stands after his Feb. 19 bail hearing in Pretoria as his brother, Carl, middle, and father, Henke, right, look on. (Masi Losi/AP)

SOUTH AFRICA

The unmaking of Oscar Pistorius Add to ...

The privileges and favouritism may have blinded the Pistorius entourage to the psychological trauma that he had endured in his family and personal relationships. Those who profited from his celebrity brand seemed oblivious to the issues that he carried within him as the legacy of his childhood suffering.

In his autobiography, he described his mother, Sheila, as “the centre of my world.” She doted on her children and left inspirational messages in their lunch boxes, which he still often rereads today. His older brother, Carl, was his closest friend and companion everywhere. Yet both relationships, along with his intense relationship with his first serious girlfriend, Vicky, became ravaged by crisis and turmoil.

He was emotionally scarred at the age of 7 when his parents divorced, and he soon drifted away from his largely absent father. He was even more deeply wounded at the age of 15 when his mother suddenly died of an adverse drug reaction when she was mistakenly diagnosed with hepatitis. (Her birth and death dates are tattooed in Roman numerals on his right arm today.) He and Carl were left “rudderless” and “effectively homeless” after her death, he recalled in his book.

Carl took it hardest, racked with guilt, blaming himself for their mother’s death. He had recently suffered a bout of hepatitis, which wrongly convinced the doctors that Sheila had the same condition.

After her death, the two teenaged brothers fought bitterly. In a remarkably candid and emotional letter to his brother in 2008, Carl remembered plunging into a “hellish time” of depression, alcohol and violence. Oscar, in contrast, sublimated his grief into his training. “You became incredibly focused and driven,” Carl told his brother.

Their father, meanwhile, wrote a letter to Oscar in which he defended his “exacting” and “sometimes even cruel” behaviour toward him. He said he was only trying to make Oscar more “self-sufficient” and capable of standing up to bullies. But by the time of the letter in 2008, the gulf between them was obvious. They seldom saw each other, and Oscar later told a journalist that his father was “not much of a parent.” Henke admitted that he mainly saw his son “on the television.”

Henke and Carl were reunited with Oscar in a Pretoria courtroom as he sought bail on the murder charge last month. Inside the courtroom, they were the image of a tight-knit family – yet there was soon a rift again. The family was upset when Henke made racial comments, telling the media that the family’s handguns were necessary because the African National Congress government had failed to protect white people from crime. Oscar and other family members issued a strongly worded statement, disowning Henke’s commentsand saying they were “deeply concerned” by them.

Oscar had a similar story of frequent conflict and reunion with his girlfriend, Vicky, whom he first began dating as a teenager. They argued, split up, got back together and split up again in a fiery and tumultuous relationship. Their first breakup, Oscar said, was one of the lowest points of his life. “It was awful,” he said.

Today, more than a decade after his mother’s death, is Oscar Pistorius still unconsciously feeling the shock of those intimate losses and the pressure of his international celebrity status ? And were the warning signs ignored? His racehorse partner, Mr. Joffe, is convinced that the athlete needed professional help for his emotions, yet those signs were neglected.

One of his close friends, South African racehorse trainer Mike Azzie, said he is worried whether the Olympic superstar can cope with his ordeal over the murder charge.

“He is really battling,” Mr. Azzie said in an interview. “I’m hurting for him. After talking to him, I’m shattered. It’s like it is happening to my own child.”

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