Menell13: Media freedom unpacked

Menell13: Media freedom unpacked

A report on this media conference a colleague and I attended this past weekend.


Sexual lunch: No strings attached?

Eyebrows have been raised sky high in response to a lunch hosted by lawyers investigating sexual harassment charges at Wits.

Lawyers from Bowman Gilfillan invited a group of the harassment “victims” to an intimate lunch at Papa Vino’s in Rosebank last week – a move that many are saying is a little out of kilter with professional practice.

Email invitation 

The email invitation sent by Bowman Gilfillan said: “We thought it fitting to arrange a lunch for all students affected by sexual harassment at Wits where all of us can meet in an informal setting and provide support for one another.”

It was made clear they would not be asking any questions related to the various sexual harassment cases at the lunch.

The lunch by the firm might have been very innocent in its intent but the ethical implications need to be taken into account, according to some legal experts.

Ethical considerations

Dr Murray Wesson, lecturer at the School of Law, University of Western Sydney said the lunch was “in bad practice”.

“Lawyers should not confer with multiple witnesses at the same time about issues that may be contentious at a subsequent hearing. The reason is that this may give rise to collusion or the appearance of collusion,” said Wesson.

Wesson said while the invitation states that people will not be interviewed at the lunch, it also says that students will be able to drive discussions with one another.

His concerns are around the fact that in such a relaxed and informal setting, conversation could lead to the allegations of the various cases.

Wits Centre for Ethics director Professor Lucy Allias said she found the lunch “strange”. She added that she did not understand how the invitation could be considered appropriate.

She said: “It seems to me very strange to invite victims of a highly personal, potentially extremely traumatic kind of abuse to a joint social event.”

One of the students, or accusers, who was invited but did not attend said: “I don’t want to be with other victims, all of us sitting around and feeling sorry for ourselves.”

Wits Vuvuzela contacted Kirti Menon to get the University’s comment, she said: “I don’t think the venue is relevant and at this stage in the university investigations I would not like to comment further.”
Wits Vuvuzela had been told that the sexual harassment cases are currently being wrapped up and the final reports will be out by the end of the month.

Closed. Back in…

NOTHING TO SEE: The Friendly Supermarket at the Matrix looks set to remain closed. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa
NOTHING TO SEE: The Friendly Supermarket at the Matrix looks set to remain closed. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

The friendly Supermarket in the Matrix has been visibly out of business for the past three weeks – with no stock or signs of trade in the shop.

 Shop closure

Approached for an explanation, owner of the  franchise, Johan Mostert spoke candidly to Wits Vuvuzela about his problems, which he claimed resulted from an increase in rental.

However, he later retracted his statement and warned the reporter not to mention his name. He claimed information he had shared had already reached the landlord and it was now a legal matter.

Mostert said the lights at his shop had been turned off because he had defaulted on his rent payments for two months. This was a result of a rent increase, effective from March 1.

“Alles is deurmakaar [everything is in chaos].” He added that enough was enough.

Landlord Jackie Meyer of RFC Group could not be reached for comment after numerous attempts by Wits Vuvuzela.

Now what? 

Another Matrix shop owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said their shop had been extremely busy since the supermarket had closed down and had been forced to bring in more stock.

The source said they had heard rumours that rent had been the reason for the closure. “The rent here is very expensive. The rates are like those at a shopping centre.”

Shop owners explained that every shop at the Matrix pays different rates – calculated on the size of the shop.

There was an increase of about 10% every year, a shop owner revealed. They are allowed 2 months free of rent during July and December, when the university broke for holidays.

Jackie Mung, owner of the Chinese Shop said:  “Everyone has to pay rent. Once you agree you must pay.”

Mung conceded that rent was expensive, but the Matrix was not a special case. Even if he moved somewhere else, he would have to pay rent and operational costs.

He said he was happy with the way he had been treated by management over the 10 years his shop had been operating.

Be Drunk by Charles Baudelaire

[Translated by Louis Simpson]

You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way.
So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.

A healthy dose of reality

Fifth year Wits medical students have learnt some harsh lessons about the conditions at public hospitals this year, after doing their practicals at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital.


“The shortage of resources and supplies is a real concern for me,” said Massillon Phasha. Doctors had to improvise and work with whatever was available, she said, because they did not have the necessary equipment and medicine. This meant patients did not get the best treatment possible.

“The lab tests one can request are limited and results for specimens sent for pathology assessment take a long time to get back. All these factors largely influence the management of the patients.

Concerns voiced

“I have voiced my concerns to the doctors, but unfortunately there is not much that they can do about it because this is largely due to shortage of funds. So unless we can get the government to give the hospitals more money, there is almost nothing we can do,” said Pasha.

Keabetsoe Phello said she had never voiced her concerns as she was too scared.

Daily activities

Medical students go to the academic hospital as part of their fifth year studies, but do not manage patients.

“We help where we can under supervision from a doctor, but our duty in the hospital is to learn,” said Pasha.

On a typical day the students do everything from being tutored by doctors on specific subjects to running basic diagnostic tests, and they could even assist in delivering a baby, depending what rounds they are doing that day.

Despite the poor conditions, students appreciate the learning experience. Pasha said she was grateful to be at Charlotte Maxeke because she was able to learn a lot. She said she believed the doctors were doing their best despite the difficult working conditions.

Phello said she loved being part of a team and getting a “sneak peak as to what life after med school entails”.

All hospitals had problems when it came to resources and facilities, she said. But despite these, and the fact that medical students work hard, with no pay, she still loved her job.

“I could never imagine myself doing anything else. In some cases we do almost the same amount of work as the interns, yet we do not get paid. And some other medical disciplines, pharmacy and nurses to name a few, get paid a wage for working.”

The students will be stationed at the hospital until November 2014.

Court Week [5/5]


Our last day in court was one of our slower days. I suppose that is what happens when you wait for a story to happen.

A group of us headed to a court we thought would have a lot of cases which we could write human interest stories on. When we got there one of the lawyers told us that she was going to have a really interesting assault case, so we stuck to that court.

We got the unique opportunity to go down to the court holding cells to speak to some of the people awaiting trial. Their stories were really sad. They told us about how one had to buy the bare necessities in jail just to get by.

They pay anything between R50 and R100 for a bed or blanket. One toilet is shared between 100 men (all sharing a cell meant for about 40), a toilet which has no partition to speak of. Their toilet paper is even rationed. It was really nice getting to speak to the men in such an informal manner, getting their side of the story.

The lawyer expressed her discomfort with the fact that prisoners awaiting trial get lumped with actual murderers and rapists. Some people awaiting trail wait for months and even years for a trial date to be set, that means a lot of time is spent mixing with hardened criminals.

Postponement, after postponement came but no mention of the assault. The person who had committed the assault , Anna was sitting right by us.

She had apparently stabbed her husband’s pregnant girlfriend with a broken beer bottle. This all transpired ko’Spotong in Newtown. We had no doubt that that would be our most interesting case. So we carried on observing with the hopes that our case would be next.

That never happened. One complication after another lead to the case being postponed. So this ended up being my last submission:

Grown man weeps for bed

Pheladi Sethusa

A prisoner’s plea for a bed fell on deaf ears yesterday in the Johannesburg Magistrates Court.

Doctor Gule (40) had tears in his eyes when he asked the court for a moment to speak after Magistrate Naseema Kahn  had postponed his case to Tuesday May 28.

A visibly upset Gule immediately piped up after the announcement. He asked to be given some money if he was being sent back to prison. “I have to pay R50 for a bed if I go back there,” said Gule.

Kahn replied, “Tax payers pay to keep ya’ll in there. You need to take that up with correctional services.” She added that living conditions were not in her jurisdiction and that he should write a letter to the people whose concern it is.

His attorney, Charlotte Snell, explained that once a case had been heard for the first time, those in custody were moved from police station holding cells to maximum security prison, Johannesburg Prison (Sun City).

Gule has been in custody since May 10 for theft. He has been convicted for stealing iron-steel rods from a construction site in the Johannesburg CBD, the value of which was unstated.

As Gule carried on making his plea, his voice began to break and tears started rolling down his cheeks.

He explained that the conditions in prison have been unbearable and that they were treated “like animals in there”.

Up to 100 men live in his cell which is meant to house only 40. They share one toilet in the cell and their toilet paper is rationed.

“Sometimes I have to sleep next to the toilet,” cried out Gule. There were audible gasps in the gallery.

Nell said that those who had not yet been sentenced, like Gule are worse off when sent to prison because they got no privileges like sentenced prisoners.

The magistrate however, was unmoved. She repeated that there was nothing she could do to help him. Gule walked out of the court disappointed, heading into a dungeon of uncertainty.

Court Week [4/5]


The trials I saw today, made me think about how foreign nationals are short changed at all levels when they are in a different country.

Two of the trials I watched dealt with the issue of foreign nationals being caught without identification documents on them. I spoke about this earlier in the week, but today it just hit home.

Both men had committed pretty petty offences – one had stolen a pack of Pampers nappies for his six month old daughter. The other had stolen a t-shirt which cost R30. Both of them had an additional charge of being in the country illegally. This has been quite the trend this week.

I understand that a crime is a crime and people must be brought to justice, but seriously why are state funds being used for even the smallest crimes. Why should foreign nationals live in fear every single day and carry their passports or other identity documents 24/7? Something about it just doesn’t feel right.

Feelings aside, I chose to focus on one of the trails and this is what I came up with;

Bang! goes the gavel for foreign national

Pheladi Sethusa

A Mozambican minor suspected of being a major was convicted for not carrying “lawful” identification documents in the Johannesburg Magistrates Court yesterday.

Martinas Johannes (17) from Mozambique stood at attention, with his head slightly hung as his charges were read out.

Johannes was charged with one count of theft. He stole a t-shirt to the value of R29.99 at a JetMart store in the Johannesburg CBD on April 16, 2013.

He admitted that he had concealed the shirt by his waist and he deliberately went past the pay points and headed straight to the door.

The state prosecutor started reading out a second count, of Johannes being in the country illegally but was abruptly stopped by the magistrate, Jabulani Skhosana.

Skhosana explained that the second charge did not appear on the charge sheet so Johannes could not be charged for that.

Skhosana’s response after hearing Johannes’s charge was, “You people are abusing the hospitality of this country that’s why you come here to steal. I can assure you wouldn’t have done the same if you were in Mozambique.”

The issue of Johannes being in the country illegally did not stop there, Skhosana then asked how long he had been in the country for.

Through his Shangaan interpreter Johannes replied, “I have been here since 17 February 2013.” He said his passport had been burnt in a shack fire shortly after he arrived.

Skhosana then went on to dispute Johannes’s age saying that he had been assessed by a doctor at the Hillbrow Community Clinic, who concluded that Johannes was not 17 years old but 18 or 19 years old.

“When I sentence you, I will be treating you like an adult,” concluded Skhosana.

In contradiction to his prior objection Skhosana sentenced Johannes on both counts as opposed to one count.

Considering that Johannes had been in custody for over a month, Skhosana hit Johannes with a R3000 fine or 18 months in prison, wholly suspended for five years.

Should he be arrested for being in the country illegally anytime soon, that sentence would come into full effect. Skhosana explained that he would probably get a heavier sentence if he committed another crime.

“So it’s your lucky day, they will release you from the cells,” closed Skhosana. After 37 days spent in custody, Johannes was finally released.

I plan to write about this issue in greater detail on my personal blog: with greater liberty tomorrow, do pop in.

Court Week [3/5]


*heavy sigh*

Had a pretty slow day today, so slow I rested my eyes for a good five minutes *bbm can’t watch*

After getting a R200 parking fine yesterday I was rather reluctant to go back to the High Court but my curiosity got the better of me. I went along with a colleague who also wanted to find out how the rest of the trial would turn out.

In retrospect I should have listened to that little niggly feeling I had on the drive over. Firstly the judge was 20 minutes late, then when he eventually got there we realised that the first witness for the day was also late. So we incurred an extra fifteen minutes of idle chit chat.

When things eventually got underway it was evident that the witness had had time to consider his testimony last night and had very curt answers. The already irritated judge was also quite short with everyone and did not see the need to drag the trial out any longer.

His attempts were in vain though, when the plaintiff took the stand he was up there for an hour straight before they even got to the defense’s cross examination.

The only new information we learnt in those two hours included the fact that “Zola Budd” is the name for a Toyota Hi Ace taxi and that apparently when one police officer arrests someone, all officers present are arresting said person. Illuminating stuff.

I then had a quick lunch at The Guildhall, cnr Market and Harrison street in town. Had the best and cheapest pizza there. Only a scale of 1 to relevant that was probably a zero but oh well.

Anyway thereafter I went off to a trial at the Magistartes Court. It was one of the more dry one’s I have been to this week – but I had to trudge one because our deadline was looming ever closer. Here’s what I managed to get together by deadline this evening:


*disclaimer: Our co-ordinator, Kenichi Serino said how we write our individual stories depends on which paper you would be writing for. For this one, I’m writing for the Daily Sun.

*Names changed to protect identities

Pheladi Sethusa

A courtroom at the Johannesburg Magistates Court turned into an examination room yesterday afternoon, as Sam* (36) walked around to show his scar to the magistrate and attorney’s.

Sam was robbed at gunpoint and assaulted by three men in Cleveland, Johannesburg on July 17, 2012. The men made off with his cell phone and dignity, leaving a bloodied Sam at the bottom of a hill.

“They hit me with what I assume was a brick. I started bleeding and the spectacles I was wearing broke,” testified Sam. He said he fell to the ground as he felt dizzy and could not see.

This is when he left the witness stand to show the magistrate, defence attorney Mendes* and prosecuting attorney Shaka*, the scar above his brow.

“The old scar has been noted,” was Mendes’s reply to the physical evidence.

The cross examination by attorney Mendes focused on Sam’s description of the man in the dock, Sechaba* (21).

In Sam’s statement and testimony he could only remember one of his attackers clearly. This was a man with a dark complexion, short hair, medium build and more distinctively a white shirt and earrings.

Mendes stressed the fact that his client had only one pierced ear and hardly ever wore an earring in his pierced ear.

He also mentioned that Sam had only seen his face partially, therefore he couldn’t be sure that Sechaba was one his attackers.

“I could see him clearly as he cocked the firearm,” said Sam.

The Daily Sun reporter noticed that one of Sechaba’s supporters in the court stands was a man with two piercings, a dark complexion and a medium build.

Sechaba has been in custody for just under a year, he had to spend another night in custody as court adjourned due to time constraints. Court will resume at 8.30am on May 23 to hear more from witnesses.