The court of law is always intriguing. For instance a considerable amount of people hoped (and expected) a guilty verdict on the charge of murder, and in chorus they all screamed murder when Pistorius was acquitted on the charge.
But I am willing to put my head on the block that the closing statement of the Pistorius legal team will have a huge sway in the court of public opinion.In spite of how many people were baying for his blood and wanted to see him rot in jail, the theme of his mitigation is public relations’ masterstroke.
Crisis happens to everyone, it is just a matter of when. Crisis happened to Pistorius on that fateful Valentine’s Day last year.
What distinguishes one group of people against the other is that when crisis hits, most of us are likely to do the most impulsive thing, put our heads in the sand. And when you put your head in the sand, you put your ass in the air.
On Friday last week, however, Pistorius, no doubt on all advisement money can buy, apologised for his act. He took ownership. Although the verdict was that he did not intentionally kill Reeva Steenkamp, he did not stand on the soap box and celebrate his “innocence”.
Instead, he appealed to the hearts of the both courts – that of law and that of public opinion – by saying not only am ‘I sorry for my deeds, I have gone further by offering financial compensation to the family of Steenkamp’.
Of course there are those who remain unmoved by the offer of monetary compensation, not least the prosecution, because they see it as too little too late, and even too crass an offer that cannot replace life.
But Pistorius and his team know that when appealing to logic is not enough, go for the heart. After all, the truth is once a human being has apologised, it is probably a cul-de-sac of all movement.
What more can be done once those that have offended have said “I am sorry”? In a human game of chess, it may not be checkmate, but it is certainly stalemate. There are no winners or losers.
When crisis hits, you need not only apologise to those affected directly and indirectly, you must be seen to be taking corrective action. And this is what Pistorius plea of mitigation has done.
Does this mean that the court will let Pistorius get away with murder (pun intended)? Not necessarily. He may still go to jail, or be hit with house arrest or even community service. That is what a court of law will determine.
But after Friday, a considerable part of the court of public opinion would have felt that here stands a man who is sorry for his actions and is willing to do whatever it takes to make amends, however limited.
Did I hear someone say “money won’t bring Steenkamp back”? Well neither would imprisoning Pistorius.
Fact of the matter is that many times in crisis, whether it is Marikana or Nkandla or Tiger Brands flooding the markets with contaminated foods, the two opportunities that are often missed are saying sorry, and showing that you are doing something to correct your mistakes.
The lessons learnt here is that facts alone are never enough to sway opinions. More often than not, especially in crisis, contrition and compassion are what human beings want to see to forgive.
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