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.

Court Week [2/5]

Today we headed to the South Gauteng High Court, which was just a few blocks away from the Magistrates Court but the two are worlds apart.


Just from observing the kind of Advocates who were heading up the stairs into the building (with young assistants pulling their big bags behind them and masses of paperwork in their free hand) we could see that this would be a totally different experience.

We were chaperoned around the building by The Star’s Omphitlhetse Mooki. She had copies of the day’s court roll so we could all make a decision on where we wanted to go. We went to about three different courts which were postponed or already done before we found something fun to start off with. We went to watch motion court presided by Judge Kathy Satchwell.

I haven’t seen many judges in action, save for the one’s on my idiot box but oath she the best I’ll probably ever see. She was wearing shades in court like a real OG and spitting fire at the Advocates. She is a no nonsense kind of lady but also quite kind at heart.

She was willing to go above and beyond for some cases which were at a standstill because of other people’s incompetence. “There are the most incompetent, useless people downstairs,” she said in reply to an applicant who wanted to get a hold of his trial transcripts.

Anyway we imagined that being in her courtroom we would have the most fun and get the juiciest stories. We were mistaken. After our second round of motions we decided to give in to our tummies and went off for lunch. at this point not a single one of my classmates had a story.

By two o’ clock we were in a bit of a panic. it seemed like there was nothing interesting going on anywhere. Every courtroom we tried more tedious than the next. Finally at about 3pm things started to happen for us all. I ended up in court 9F, covering an unlawful arrest and detention case.


*Names changed to protect identities

Pheladi Sethusa

The South Gauteng High Court was the stage for a case which involved an accident, alleged unlawful arrest and a fistful of police brutality yesterday.

Taxi driver Khaya* is suing the minister of police for R150 000 in damages, with interest, for his unlawful arrest and detention.

Constable Maseke*, was the defence’s first witness called by Advocate Malala*. He said that an accident in Fordsburg between his state vehicle and Khaya’s minibus taxi led to his arrest.

“The robots weren’t working at the intersection on May and Terrace, and he (Khaya) jumped the flashing red robot,” said Maseke.

When Khaya’s legal representative, Advocate Van Rooyen* cross examined Maseke, it became apparent that more had happened at the accident scene than the witness had let on.

Van Rooyen read out Khaya’s version of events to get Maseke’s reaction. In Khaya’s version of events, he reached the intersection first and had the right of way.

Maseke responded, “If he had stopped first he wouldn’t have hit me with the same impact, in fact I would have bumped him.”

Van Rooyen went on to say that after the accident Khaya was instructed to get out of the vehicle but could not do so because his chest had been injured in the collision.

Khaya was then forced out of his taxi and two officers hit him with their fists. He eventually fell to the ground and they then went on to kick him, which is when Maseke joined in.

Maseke denied this vehemently. He admitted that he had left out chunks of the events on the scene of the accident because his statement would have been too long, but said that Khaya’s version was untrue.

Judge Nyathi* was amused by the inconsistencies that arose in Maseke’s testimony, even more so when his colleague Constable Mudau* took the stand.

His version of events effectively made Maseke’s testimony seem unsound. He placed himself on the scene but did not take responsibility for the things Maseke claimed he did on the scene, like arresting Khaya.

Sergeant Rameila* was the third person on the witness stand and for the most part his events did not differ much from Maseke’s. However, his testimony was cut short as the court adjourned for the day and will continue on May 22 at 10am.

We were bummed that we didn’t get to see what the other witnesses would have added as things were getting really interesting just as we adjourned. But we might go back tomorrow morning to see how the story ends before we have to head off to the Magistrates Court again.


Court Week [1/5]


Today we went off to the Johannesburg Magistrates Court to get acquainted with courts and to see our justice system at work.

We began the day by looking at the roll for the day to see which cases/trials  we would want to watch and cover for the day. We were all tasked with finding one interesting case and reporting on it by our 6pm deadline.

It was a bit tricky finding the right court to attend but by midday we had found a few interesting cases and trials to cover. Today we went off in little groups so we could all struggle together, hopefully we all learnt enough today to brave the corridors by ourselves come Wednesday.

We had to be back at the department at 4pm so we could all submit by 6pm. It took me a while to decide which case I would write about because they were all interesting in their own way. We had two drunken driving ones, tax evasion and theft.

What I wanted to write about was a refugee from Mozambique who was charged with theft (he stole a Woolies trolley) and not having any “lawful” identification documents. I didn’t knew that foreigners are obliged to carry some sort of identification on their person at all times or face arrest when they don’t. It seems very 1952 to me. His case made me even more sad when he was sentenced to more jail time because he couldn’t possibly afford the R3000 fine required of him for both “crimes”.

Anyway I ended up not having enough solid information to write that story, so I wrote this one instead:


*Names changed to protect identities

Pheladi Sethusa

Guilty or not guilty are not the only choices when a plea is being made in court. People accused of small misdemeanours can plead diversion, which is a plea of no contest against the charges being made.

Thomas* (30) from Berea pleaded diversion to charges of drunken driving earlier today in the Johannesburg Magistrates Court. Diversion is normally only granted to people who commit low value crimes, like shoplifting or possession of a small amount of drugs said his lawyer, James*.

James said that Thomas deserved a diversion because, “he is a taxi driver, a Zulu and a South African.”

The magistrate was not impressed with this argument, saying that his nationality should not divert from the crime committed. To this James replied that it is indeed a mitigating factor in getting his bail dropped.

James claimed that his client could not afford the bail amount which was set at R1000. “Are you taking this on as a pro bono case, Mr James?”, “No I am not,” replied James. The magistrate went on to ask how Thomas could then afford legal counsel but not meet bail.

James asked for Thomas to be allowed to enter the diversion programme. Diversion can only be granted when a person does not deny the charges being made against them, explained James.

The magistrate released Thomas on a warning and told him he can go ahead and enroll for the diversion programme as requested by his lawyer. He would have to come back on May 27 to find out how many hours he would have to serve in the programme.

The diversion programme is run in conjunction with the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA). The programme aims to rehabilitate people who are enrolled.

Once the hours stipulated by the court have been completed, Sibiya must come back to court with evidence thereof. Then his record will be cleared and he won’t have a criminal record to his name.

That is all for today, I am bushed and I have an episode of Isibaya to watch.

The Newsroom 6.0

Well somehow between exhaustion and a coma induced by sheer laziness I didn’t post a “newsroom update”  from last week – a thousand apologies to the five of you that do read this blog.

Last week was meant to be one of our most hectic weeks in the newsroom as we were publishing a twelve page edition. Yet somehow, it turned out to be one of our calmer weeks– especially on production day. Things went swimmingly, we even – wait for it – sent the paper in to the printers on time (give or take 10 minutes). Something which apparently hasn’t been done in the Vuvu newsroom for about two years.  Yay us!

I have trouble remembering anything that happened over the ppast seven days, so I can’t remember much else from that week besides the fact that we did joPs (no, that is not a typo, just a #balcktwitter reference).

Okay on to events I can remember – this past week we had news conference as usual, a very rushed one was had but we all had something to bring to the proverbial table.  We then had guest speaker Gilbert Marcus in to teach us a thing or two about the courts. He taught us the basic ins and outs of courts in SA.

After which we all had to scurry off to get our stories started. I went in the opposite direction and helped out with a video vox –  just find them so fun. The question we posed was about female condoms, we got amazing responses from Witsies.

Later that evening I had an interview on Life Beats, a show on VoW FM. The topic up for discussion was social media – how I use it in my personal and professional life mainly. Luckily I was joined by my friend and colleague Shandukani Mulaudzi and we had a ball just speaking our minds. The host said we had been the most entertaining guests they had had on air in a while.  I really enjoyed being on radio, it may be something I want to pursue now.

On Tuesday morning we went through to watch proceedings at Constitutional Court. It was great being there while something was actually happening, as opposed to just taking pictures outside as I had done before. We went in preparation for court week – which starts tomorrow. We just wanted something we could compare the High Court and Magistrates Court to. Those attorneys and advocates know their stuff, it was interesting listening to them make their arguments.

The week from there on was pretty much down hill, I felt super busy every day but I wasn’t really doing anything. Both of my stories fell off the diary because of late responses from sources but it’s chilled guess it gives us (me) more time to get a better story together.

The only piece of myself I managed to get in the paper was a deep caption of Mfundi Vundla. Come production day it was back to the same 8 pager chaos that we are accustomed to. I was production manager again and this week was surprisingly more challenging than last week.

But as always we made it somehow and luckily we got the rest of that day off, which gave me a chance to catch up on much needed sleep. As a mentioned earlier Court Week starts next week, 8am to 6pm days – I can’t wait!