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.