Failing to cancel grief over Kobe Bryant for his rape case revictimises the victim

03 February 2020 - 08:16
By thabiso mahlape AND Thabiso Mahlape
Luis Villanueva lights a candle in front of a Kobe Bryant mural in downtown Los Angeles on January 26, 2020.
Image: APU GOMES / AFP Luis Villanueva lights a candle in front of a Kobe Bryant mural in downtown Los Angeles on January 26, 2020.

This has been a hard entry for me to make. I very much considered not writing this, but it would make me dishonest. And while I don't endeavour to share my whole life and thoughts on this page, it has always been to opine, truthfully, about the things that happen around us. And so I have decided.

You see, I have let myself down. My heart and my past have fought to an unfortunate draw with who I know myself to be as a woman and a woman who puts women above all else in society.

A rapist died, and my heart broke into smithereens. The legendary, iconic and superstar basketball player Kobe Bryant perished in a helicopter crash about a week ago.

I remember the two hours or so after the news broke, the anguish with which the world waited with bated breath as the American media speculated on the identity of the other passengers on the helicopter. At first, all four of his daughters, then all daughters and mother and then later, painfully, the confirmation that it was just his one girl, basketball player Gigi.

There is something about the anguish from those hours of suspense and speculation that etched the tragedy into my heart, going through the various scenarios in my head and all of them more heartbreaking than the previous, and in all of them, an icon was dead.

I am not a basketball fan, I don't watch a lot of sports either, depending on who I am sleeping with and needing to impress. But I have luckily never had to pretend to like basketball, thank God!

I had seen Kobe's face, seen and heard his name and knew of his legend. It was something that spilt over - his discipline - and indeed for the sports fraternity. It was larger than life. But Kobe Bryant was also a rapist. The world was made painfully aware of that past in wake of his death.

In my normal world, as I know and believe myself to be, I would have cancelled Kobe on the spot.

I failed. This makes me just as problematic as rape apologists.

I wish the news had broken as 'Rapist Kobe Bryant dead'. Perhaps then I would have been able to harden my heart as I ought to.

I wish I hadn't had to deal with his legend and footage that looked like him being a great father, husband and human, before his complicated legacy came up.

People's grief tears me apart. Each time there is a collective mourning in the world or in the country, I am reduced to the 12-year-old year little girl who had to bury her mother. It is for this reason that I avoid the graveside part of any funeral that I go to.

Kobe looks like he had a great relationship with his family.

I am torn for them, they lost a father and a daughter.

I tell writers all the time that their characters are incomplete if they are one dimensional, and that everyone is redeemable. Redeeming rapists is a revictimisation of the victim and I would not dream it. And yet I have failed to cancel Kobe. To redeem myself, I have chosen to focus rather on the pain that his family has to endure. Death, in the end, is more about the living. His family knew and loved him as a father and a husband. They deserve the peace and space to mourn him, as they should.

As for the rest of us, may we live in our lives the things we preach on social media and opinion pages. But most importantly learn to call ourselves out when our politics is not consistent. And try not to leave behind complicated legacies that tear people apart when they should be united in grief.