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
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.