Court Week [5/5]

Photo: http://www.timeslive.co.za

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 [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.

Photo: showme.co.za

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.

 R150 000: THE PRICE FOR POLICE BRUTALITY?

*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.

Peace.

Court Week [1/5]

Photo: http://www.cultofmac.com

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:

DIVERSION – A LITTLE KNOWN PLEA

*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.

Not Yet Uhuru

There’s a popular saying that I have seen Thandiswa Mazwai tweet quite often, which says “Until we are all free, none of us are free.”

Today, April 27 is Freedom Day in South Africa.

I woke up to the sounds of the President’s voice, as he addressed people at a Freedom day event in Pretoria earlier. I heard him speak about the evil we managed to triumph over, I found myself nodding when he mentioned that this freedom we have, came at a price.

He spoke about the great strides that have been made since 1994 in housing and with the general provision of basic amenities. The ruling party has actually done a lot to try to improve the lives of the majority. Obviously a lot more could be done and hopefully will be done if we can “deal” with corruption and inequality and racism and and and.

Anyway, I suppose what made me open my laptop was the fact that we hear these things all the time. Which is why at some point I stopped listening and opted to read yesterday’s paper instead. Yes things are changing, a lot has changed. We do have a lot to be grateful and thankful for but we still have a long way to go. A very long way.

For the past two days in my Journalism class, we have had a guest speaker, Kevin Davies from the Mail & Guardian come school us on Financial Journalism. We had very interesting debates with about the state of our economy. Yesterday in particular we spoke about some of the challenges we are facing and tried to brainstorm solutions.

My answer to his question on a solution, was a Pan-African one, which seemed impossible for our speaker to comprehend. I was glad that my classmates however, agreed with me (for the most part). What struck me about the conversation that was going on, was that we too had all these ideas but no solid ways of implementing them. Much like some our leaders today.

To test our optimism about the country’s future, Mr Davies drew a ‘level-of-optimism-scale’ to see where we lay on it. Most of us were on a very high 7, saying that we do have high hopes for the future based on the amount of potential in the country. Then he went on to say that this scale is based on a ten year period, at which point our optimism waned.

Making one thing very clear (to me at least), we are nowhere near where we need or even want to be. Especially when it comes to economic equality. Something that was also mentioned in the President’s address earlier today.

I can’t help but think of Agent Smith’s words in the Matrix Reloaded every time this day rolls around. He said: “We’re not here because we are free. We’re here because we are not free.”

Harvard graduates ASSIST kids in Alex

ASSISTANTS: Pergan Naicker (left) and Victor Sithole (right) from the Wits Volunteer Programme tutoring in Alexandra. Photo: Provided by Assist
ASSISTANTS: Pergan Naicker (left) and Victor Sithole (right) from the Wits Volunteer Programme tutoring in Alexandra.
Photo: Provided by Assist

Underprivileged children in Alexandra are scoring with some assistance from a non-governmental organisation, the African Sports and Scholastic Initiative for Students in Townships (Assist).

Harvard graduates started Assist last September to aid underprivileged children in Alexandra.

The name of the initiative is a clever play on a basketball term, which means helping someone score a goal. In this case, the assistance comes in the form of a mentorship system to tutor children in their school subjects. 

Harvard graduates from the class of 2012 Dennis Zheng, Patrick Li and Ian Choe started the initiative in September 2012. This came after Zheng and Li had visited South Africa in 2011 to volunteer as basketball coaches at the Special Olympics South Africa.

On this 2011 visit they had the opportunity to work at different schools in Alexandra township with intellectually disabled children. Zheng said: “We then became connected with Harry Nakeng, a local community leader of the Alexandra Basketball Association (ABA), and began coaching basketball with township youth every afternoon.

“What Patrick and I discovered was a testament to the power of athletics; each day after school, 50 players of varying ages took to dusty courts in bare feet or their school shoes to learn the sport,” said Zheng.

The children made such an impact on Li and Zheng that they could not stop thinking about them. They decided to return to Johannesburg with their classmate Choe to found Assist. Zheng said: “The programme aims to leverage Alexandra township youth’s excitement about the emerging sport of basketball in order to catalyze students’ success in the classroom and ultimately improve their lives.”

The founders believe it is important to have a balance between sports and academics. Assist incorporates basketball to encourage physical, emotional and mental health, Zheng added. Sports also promotes a sense of camaraderie and helps to develop traits like discipline, he said.

The initiative has teamed up with the Wits Volunteer Programme (WVP) to outsource tutors. “Forty five Wits students are tutors for the ASSIST project now,” said Karuna Singh who heads the WVP.

These students tutor on Monday to Thursday afternoons and on Saturdays. Assist provides the tutors with transport to Alexandra. They help with subjects like Maths and English, Singh explained.

Zheng agreed: “Their consistent mentorship leads to not only better marks from term to term but also empowers each child to develop and reach his or her life goals.”

The initiative continues to seek funding, Zheng: “We initially funded the first year of the programme through the generosity of supportive friends and family, but we are currently exploring local options for financial support while preparing for another world-wide fundraising campaign.”

Up until now, by April 2013, close to 60 learners have benefited from the initiative. If you wish to assist, and help children, then  find out more about the initiative and go to:

theassist.org. You can also visit the WVP at Senate House, Ground Floor.

Wits staff strike back

Thursday 19 July 2012 marked the beginning of the Wits staff industrial action against management. The main issue of protest is against the low wages that staff members at Wits are paid.

The strike came to my attention on Twitter via Professor Pumla Gqola’s timeline. Her hashtag#WitsStaffIndustrialAction was very useful in highlighting the staff’s main issues of contention. Members of ASAWU (Academic Staff Association of Wits University), NEHAWU (National Education Health and Allied Workers Union) and ALTSA (Administration Library and Technical Staff Association) joined forces to propel the protest.

Wits-strike
Wits staff marching outside the university’s entrance on Enoch Sontonga road in Braamfontein.

This was what they called a yellow card march, pending a response from management. If their demands are not met, the strikers threaten to enforce full industrial action on the 2nd of August. The groups feel that considering the surplus profits that Wits makes they are entitled to increases. They are demanding a 9% wage increase for support staff and a 7.5% wage increase for academic staff. Along with this was a demand for an on-campus childcare facility, increased amounts for individual research and an end to the overselling of open staff parking areas.

These demands are by no means preposterous or absurd; the staff members simply want decent pay for the work they do. Especially when there is enough money in the University’s coffers to do so. Every year students pay increased fees and the government grant is increased. It only makes sense that staff salaries should also increase. At the moment increases are granted on a performance basis but this can judged very subjectively and is not necessarily the fairest way. The memorandum handed over was accepted by management and will be taken into consideration, they say.

Hopefully, management will heed staffs call by adhering to their demands. Our staff is very capable and deserving of this increase for the phenomenal work they do.

**NOTE: Post first appeared on exPress imPress on July 23 2014. 

THEATRE REVIEW: The Line

peuf_20120514_26-247x300This year the Wits Arts and Literature Experience (WALE) had a number of interesting events on offer. Of all the events I managed to attend, one in particular stood out. I wouldn’t call this piece a review but rather an abstruse comment on the play.It was a fairly warm and pleasant afternoon, the 10th of May 2012. This changed completely when we were ushered into the Nunnery. A Wits theatre space which has quite an eerie feel to it. It felt like we had just walked into a dungeon. This was cemented when the huge black doors where bolted shut for the performance to begin. The lights were dimmed, all whispers faded and The Line began.

It was an amazing play to watch. Even though it only ran for 50 minutes, one was not left wanting. The storyline was robust, intricate and full of devastating truths. Truths about who we are as so called South African citizens. Citizens who are so caught up in the ideas of their superior nationality that they burn, torture and destroy the lives of their fellow brothers and sisters. The play was primarily about the heinous acts committed during the xenophobic attacks in South Africa in 2008.

The script and most of the dialogue in the play was made up by a number of interviews conducted by the director, Gina Shumulker. This made for a far more transparent and sincere opportunity to identify with the characters. There were only two actors (Khutso Green and Gabi Harris) on stage but they managed to tell the stories of several interviewees. Ms Green played five vastly different characters. Just by changing her voice and mannerisms, she managed to play each character with spellbinding conviction. Her physical appearance was but a mirage on that stage. We ‘saw’ a different character every time she opened her mouth.

We got an insight into the kinds of people who propelled the violence, in this case an ANC councillor, a young thug and a Johannesburg-20120510-00071-300x225woman who was a victim of the hype incited by mob mentality. We got to see people who just stood by and watched, stopping only to take photographs (people like us). But most importantly we got to see the victims of the xenophobic violence. The innocent people we all let down.

There was a discussion after the play. Most of the audience members were moved by the performance. Moved in that they had never taken the xenophobic attitudes and actions seriously up until this point. There was a common feel around the room that the time of shifting the responsibility of dealing with such issues to government is over. The onus is on us as individuals to say to one another that ‘this is wrong and we will not tolerate it’. We can’t stand back anymore and watch such atrocities take place right under our noses. There are a lot of things that we put up with and ‘let slide’. The killing of innocent people should not be one of them.

The Line left me feeling guilty and ashamed. Ashamed of being a South African citizen and guilty in my complicity of inaction. However, there was a trickle of hope in all of this. There was a character who was involved in the violence who was rather remorseful after the fact. Her guilt is a sign that our people haven’t completely lost their humanity. That we still have the ability to feel for others, that all is not lost.

**NOTE: Post first appeared on exPress imPress on May 22 2014. 

MOVIE REVIEW: Otelo Burning

otelo1-201x300I got the opportunity to attend a private screening of this movie on the 11th of April 2012. As soon as we got there, we realised that this movie is a big deal.

As I stood in the line to get popcorn, I was losing my mind at the sight in front of me. Lungile Radu was standing there. Right there, in real life. Not on a television screen. Less than 2 meters away from me. Then just as I got over that excitement I see Jafta Mamabolo who is the leading man in the movie. This was indeed a big night. As I look up from tweeting about my celeb spotting, Ferial Haffajee just casually struts past us. But I digress.

It was a small viewing space, packed with a number of seemingly intimidating people. The movie started off with an intense scene that grabbed all my attention from that moment, right until the closing credits. I really don’t want to give anything away on this one. We should all go out and watch it. What I will say is this: it’s a very different view of the South Africa of the late 1980s/early 1990s. It effectively shows how the apartheid regime managed to seep into all epithets of not only political but social life at the time. It was an inescapable force that incinerated everything it touched.

otelo2-272x300It is a movie about freedom. How freedom has multiple meanings and that the attainment thereof is never easy. Tragedy is etched on the face of freedom and vice versa; the two are inextricably intertwined. It has elements of a variety of genres which makes it the rich movie it is. We laughed (a lot), we cried (a lot) but most importantly, everyone in attendance thoroughly enjoyed themselves. It must be said that the acting was amazing. It wouldn’t be as brilliant without that amazing cast. A most compelling performance was given by all and they rightly deserve all the awards that are sure to come their way.

We have so much talent in this country. The only way to nurture it is to support it. So do the right thing and go watch this awesome movie. It will be in cinemas from May 11. There is already an enormous buzz around the movie. It hasn’t even come out yet! Go watch it, you won’t regret it :)

**NOTE: Post first appeared in exPress imPress on May 1 2012. 

Second generation trauma

I attended an amazing seminar at the University of the Witwatersrand on Thursday 18th of August 2011. The speaker at the seminar was Eva Hoffman, who is both a writer and an academic. The topic of the seminar was “Lost and Found in Transition: Contested memories and moving on from difficult pasts” , and more specifically second generation trauma. A phenomenon I have recently come to learn about and find very intriguing. cover_lost_in_translation

Second generation trauma has to do with the aftershocks that the children of survivors of gratuitous violence experience. The expression was first used to describe the children of Holocaust survivors. I first came across this term when reading Maus, a great graphic novel by Art Spiegelman. He not only tells his father’s story of living through the genocide but also tells his personal story of trying to deal with that ‘passed on’ trauma. Eva Hoffman’s autobiography Lost in Translation does the same. She too is a “second hand” trauma victim.

Eva Hoffman described second generation trauma as encapsulating contested memories and transitions after great wrongs have been committed. This can prove problematic when trying to achieve reconciliation, especially because the afterlife of atrocity is long. She went on to say that democracy and freedom are difficult to negotiate after such a traumatic experience and that this initiation is necessary. Not from the victims’ side but from the perpetrators’.

In Jewish consciousness, the Polish were and are seen as being conspirators with the Nazi’s in contributing to Jewish suffering. In the same breath, she said that Polish descendants cannot be blamed or punished for their forefathers, but they need to acknowledge what happened. “After such wrongs have been done, they can’t be undone… Recognition, not forgiveness needs to be the starting point of reconciliation.”

As the seminar went on Hoffman delved deeper into the nature of second generation trauma. She said that it has to do with the transmission of memories but not exclusively; memory coupled with the after-effects of parental experience. This transmission often leads to the second generation being frozen in time, in so doing perpetuating the cycle of revenge within their generation. The children of survivors speak of despondency, depression and anger which all arise from trying to locate their parents’ context in history. None of the above can be resolved unless a second generation dialogue is initiated.

Second generation dialogue refers to the conversations that need to take place between the children of the victims and those of the perpetrators. We need to recognise that children of the perpetrators are also going through some form of trauma. They are traumatised by the silence of their parents, their inability to admit they were wrong. As a result they try to reject their parents but cannot do that because it is easier said than done. The fact that both sides are trying to deal with inherited trauma should be the condition that allows for a dialogue to take place. Trust and understanding are imperative for this dialogue to work. This dialogue is the only means of getting on a reconciliatory path and leading to an expansion of minds.

5_5_trc_cartoonI brought all of the above into a proximal context, a personal context. I consider myself as a victim of second generation trauma. I often wrestle with the issues that Hoffman raised. I am angry and despondent about apartheid and racial oppression, and so are a lot of my peers. It is particularly difficult for us to ‘move on’ because the lived reality of inequality is still very real to us. What I mean by this is that South Africa inherited structural violence and inequality. Today we refer to it as the legacy of apartheid.

How can we even begin to let go when the effects of that totalitarian system are still rife in our society? The racial disparities in our society are very obvious and this is something that needs to be addressed.

However, when one starts to speak about such issues we are met with contestations of being too racialised. I find that a lot of liberal whites and blacks want us to repress the past. This would be folly – the past needs to be acknowledged, remembered and addressed. “Wrong doers cannot get forgiveness until they admit to crimes and are willing to repent for them”, said Hoffman.

This brought up questions from the audience about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). One gentleman said it was highly idyllic and aimed to quickly cover up the past. He went on to say it failed because forgiveness is a Christian doctrine and forced people to adhere along those lines. To counter this, a young lady said we cannot look at the TRC as a defining moment but a mere example of things that can be done to help the nation move on. Hoffman answered this by saying: “The side most responsible for atrocities needs to make the first step”. This is where the TRC failed. To add on to this point, another young lady said it is astonishing to her that “those who weren’t allowed to vote before 1994 are now responsible for reconciling a nation that was destroyed by those who were allowed to vote”. Surely it should be the inverse.

I must say this seminar did help me in negotiating my position as a young black person. Along with this I had a defining “aha moment”. I never thought about the equally complex psychological disposition of my white peers. Both ‘sides’ cannot reject or abandon their parental history but we need to remember it is not our own. The second generation dialogue resonated with me; it is the first step we can all take on this journey of reconciliation. It will not happen overnight; it will be a process. We need to create our own history that will reflect our willingness to try and amend the past.

**NOTE: Post first appeared on exPress imPress on August 28 2011.