[PHOTO ESSAY]: A little trip down memory lane…

Today I decided to go to the apartheid museum to see if I could track some sort of Chinese history during the 20th century.

To my surprise there was not much to document according to Chinese history. I went on the self tour walking through the museum. I revisited the apartheid regime and the very dark time our country went through more than a decade ago. However, Chinese immigrants documentation was not readily available.

The museum sticks to strictly apartheid affects and the issues that the indigenous people in South Africa faced. There was nothing on the Chinese migrants who came to South Africa to mine. The mining stories were those of the local miners and the torture they faced as miners during this time of apartheid.

The mining stories were documented by Ernest Cole, a photographer at the time who told stories of the miners through his photography, however there was no documentation of any Chinese people.

I decided to keep digging and see what I could find. This is what I came across.

As you enter the apartheid museum, you are greeted by this saying which Nelson Mandela said in 1999. It says "To be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." Photo: Prelene Singh

As you enter the apartheid museum, you are greeted by this saying which Nelson Mandela said in 1999. It says “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Photo: Prelene Singh

After proceeding through the specified gate for me which was titled "Nie - Blankes" which means non-white in English. I saw the Identity Documents of some of the non-white people who lived in South Africa at that time. The ID's were of Black, Indian, coloured and Asian people. I managed to spot this poster of an Asian woman's ID document. This represents that the Asian (Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese) people were treated as "non-white" in South Africa and were therefore discriminated against under the apartheid laws. In 1985 almost 1000 people's race was changed according to the tone of their skin colour. Among them many was three Chinese people were turned to white citizens. They were reclassified from one race group to another by the stroke of a government pen.  Photo: Prelene Singh

After proceeding through the specified gate for me which was titled “Nie – Blankes” which means non-white in English. I saw the ID’s of all the non-white people who lived in South Africa at that time. The ID documents were of Black, Indian and Asian people. I managed to spot this poster of an Asian woman’s ID document. This represents that the Asian (Chinese, Japanese and Taiwanese) people were treated as “non-white” in South Africa and were therefore discriminated against under the apartheid laws. In 1985 almost 1000 people’s race was changed according to their tone of their skin colour. Among them many was three Chinese people were turned to white citizens. They were reclassified from one race group to another by the stroke of a government pen. Photo: Prelene Singh

I took a photo of this man as he had facial features of an Asian man. And the only one that I spotted on the ramp of infinity. This ramp represented the journey of generations passed and presently. The mirrored boards had photo's of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of some of those who journeyed to Johannesburg following the discovery of gold in 1886. This photo is significant because it represented the far stretched history of Chinese people in Johannesburg. The ramp is built in such a way to represent the mining industry at the time and how miners were treated with the feeling of imprisonment as you walk up the ramp. Through my research I know that the Chinese were brought South Africa early in the 20th century as miners because the locals refused to mine under the inhumane conditions. Photo: Prelene Singh

I took a photo of this man as he had facial features of an Asian man. And the only one that I spotted on the ramp of infinity. This ramp represented the journey of generations passed and presently. The mirrored boards had photo’s of the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of some of those who journeyed to Johannesburg following the discovery of gold in 1886. This photo is significant because it represented the far stretched history of Chinese people in Johannesburg. The ramp is built in such a way to represent the mining industry at the time and how miners were treated with the feeling of imprisonment as you walk up the ramp. Through my research I know that the Chinese were brought South Africa early in the 20th century as miners because the locals refused to mine under the inhumane conditions. Photo: Prelene Singh

During apartheid we know that the Group Areas Act of 1950 caused the population of South Africa to be separated on the basis of skin colour, not even race. The Chinese people were separated but however on some of their legal documents they were classified as "white" people because they were fair and could pass as a white person.  This photo is a picture of separation which was painted on the walls of caves by the early San people. Photo: Prelene Singh

During apartheid we know that the Group Areas Act of 1950 caused the population of South Africa to be separated on the basis of skin colour, not even race. The Chinese people were separated but however on some of their legal documents they were classified as “white” people because they were fair and could pass as a white person. This photo is a picture of separation which was painted on the walls of caves by the early San people. Photo: Prelene Singh

This photo has nothing to do with Chinese history in South Africa but I took the picture because walking into the room with the 131 nooses hanging from the ceiling gave me shivers down my spine, literally. Knowing that each one of these nooses represents a person who was executed for political crimes in South Africa during apartheid. On the walls beside the nooses are the names of these people who were executed or was in police detention and subsequently died.

This photo has nothing to do with Chinese history in South Africa but I took the picture because walking into the room with the 131 nooses hanging from the ceiling gave me shivers down my spine, literally. Knowing that each one of these nooses represents a person who was executed for political crimes in South Africa during Apartheid. On the walls beside the nooses are the names of these people who were executed or was in police detention and subsequently died.

Egoli: A commanding view of the city of Gold greets you when you reach the top of the ramp. The modern skyline is reflective of the accomplishments throughout the decades of Johannesburg. It is important to bear in mind that the Chinese people played a role in the development of our city. Th Chinese helped in the mining process in the early 1900's when they mined gold. Gold was the key to the establishment Johannesburg and the history of discrimination and segregation in this city. Photo: Prelene Singh

Egoli: A commanding view of the city of Gold greets you when you reach the top of the ramp. The modern skyline is reflective of the accomplishments throughout the decades of Johannesburg. It is important to bear in mind that the Chinese people played a role in the development of our city. Th Chinese helped in the mining process in the early 1900’s when they mined gold. Gold was the key to the establishment Johannesburg and the history of discrimination and segregation in this city. Photo: Prelene Singh

This is a photo of the replica of the solitary confinement cell. Detainees who were held in these cells say that it was the worst kind of torture. Winnie Mandela said: "The mind finds it very difficult to adjust to such solitude. It is utter torture...It becomes so difficult to keep sane with absolutely nothing to do that I would actually hunt for ants. If I had an ant or a fly in the cell, I would regard myself as having company for the day." I stood in this cell and closed the door. If I laid down flat on my back that would be the size of the entire cell. Photo: Prelene Singh

This is a photo of the replica of the solitary confinement cell. Detainees who were held in these cells say that it was the worst kind of torture. Winnie Mandela said: “The mind finds it very difficult to adjust to such solitude. It is utter torture…It becomes so difficult to keep sane with absolutely nothing to do that I would actually hunt for ants. If I had an ant or a fly in the cell, I would regard myself as having company for the day.” I stood in this cell and closed the door. If I laid down flat on my back that would be the size of the entire cell. Photo: Prelene Singh

This is the inside of the yellow army vehicle. You can see the heavy appearance of the seats inside, the torn seats and the rusted metal bars. It is a scary sight and one could only imagine how it felt to be inside this vehicle as a political prisoner. Photo: Prelene Singh

This is the inside of the yellow army vehicle. You can see the heavy appearance of the seats inside, the torn seats and the rusted metal bars. It is a scary sight and one could only imagine how it felt to be inside this vehicle as a political prisoner. Photo: Prelene Singh

This photo shows you the imposing yellow armoured vehicle which was used by the police and the army called who called it a casspir. This is representative of the constant police presence in the townships during apartheid South Africa. It also became the central figure of the Soweto uprising of 1976. Photo: Prelene Singh

This photo shows you the imposing yellow armoured vehicle which was used by the police and the army called who called it a casspir. This is representative of the constant police presence in the townships during apartheid South Africa. It also became the central figure of the Soweto uprising of 1976. Photo: Prelene Singh

While these pictures are not all related to the Chinese history in South Africa I think it suffices as important context in understanding the state of South Africa before and after the Chinese came to the country. It is also important to understand how the Chinese were treated and why, under apartheid law.

It does not tell the story of Chinese people in particular but it helps to wrap your mind around why the Chinese had such a difficult time in South Africa then and why they still till this day experience discrimination form local citizens.

I have a few meetings lined up this week with people who be able to supply me with more information around the history of Chinese people in South Africa. And if time allows me I would like to speak to people of the apartheid museum about why this part of history is not documented publicly and find out if there is any new information and visuals they could provide me with.

For now 再见 (bye bye) from me.

Court week comes to a conclusion

Today marked the end of court week experience. I must say I have come out of this week more informed and educated about how the court system works in South Africa but also highly disappointed and shameful about the justice system in this country.

My last day in court was by far the most touching yet eye-opening day I have had in a long time. I sat through district court and met an attorney who was friendly enough to take me down to the holding cell for underneath the court where prisoners are kept until they appear in court.

I learnt that these prisoners who have committed less serious crimes such as theft of consumer goods, robbery and assault. I mean less serious in comparison to the more serious crimes such as rape and murder.

The holding cell

I went down to the holding cell and I was taken aback by the mere appearance of the cell. It was very cold firstly and considering it was winter it was even colder. The walls were dull grey with paint coming off it, there was a wooden bench on the side of the wall for the prisoners to sit and they were closed in by a squeaky metal gate. There were at least 10 to 15 prisoners who were transported from Sterkfontein prison and Sun City prison.
criminals

The treatment of prisoners

The constable had told us that everyday at least 1000 prisoners were transported to the courts for their hearing. Sometimes there are not enough buses to bring all the prisoners to court to appear and they are left behind and unable to appear in court and are left in custody until the court postpones their case.

I learnt that the prisons in Sun City were full. A prison cell which is made for 42 prisoners, have over 100 prisoners in them. I learnt that people who commit theft, robbery or assault are kept in the same prison cell as the murderers and rapists. There is no separation.

An older looking man walked to the stand in court to appear for his trial, which was postponed, had tears running down his face as he explained what was waiting for him after his trial was postponed.

He spoke out and told his interpreter that he would like to address the court. He told the court that he did not want to go back to prison because he is going to sleep on the cold cement floor tonight with no blankets and pillows. He is not going to eat because the other cell dwellers who have been there longer than him bully him into paying them after they steal his meal. He said they are forced to pay R50-00 in order to get their food and sometimes he does not even eat because he does not have money to pay them. The man who was expressing real emotion in court in front of everyone said they are treated like animals, they do not have a voice to speak out for themselves and he was dreading going back there tonight and staying there until he has to appear in court again.

The courts response

The court was not too interested in this man’s testimony and told him that we as tax payers pay for you to be in jail and therefore you do not have to pay for food and that you should speak out for your rights, he was then escorted out of court back to the holding cell.

Two observations can be deduced here. One, that he was intolerably dismissed by the court and second that the prison system in the country is not efficient.

He appeared in court just to hear that his case is postponed and he will remain in custody. This judgment happens at least 10 times in court on any given day. So it is basically a waste of time.

In this court there was a specific case where a case was postponed because the court did not provide a relevant interpreter for the accused and therefore she could not understand the court proceedings without someone who would translate it for her. The defense attorney voiced his displeasure about this. He said that the state is taking this issue of translators very lightly and therefore have failed to provide the relevant interpreters for the accused and because of this; the accused should not be punished for it. What does this say about the constitution of South Africa? A citizen of the country cannot even get an interpreter in her own language and has to face further costs when her case is postponed because of the states lack of responsibility.

I think a criminal should be punished because they have committed actions which go against the law of the country. However, I feel punishment needs to be set out in degrees. I also think that the efficiency of the court procedures in South Africa is strained and inefficient.

Conclusive thoughts

My court week experience was moving and it also proved to me that you are unaware of the way the povertised live, you are unaware of the problems in the justice system of the country and you are unaware of the lives of others until you experience it for yourself. I learnt that it is easy to sit back and judge criminals without considering their circumstance and the lack of education. Education makes you wiser and that has been proven many times in court last week. I think that the first step for South Africa is to address the low rate of literacy in the country; this would be a step in the right direction.

Magistrate Mayhem

Magistrate Mayhem

Magistrate Mayhem

The life of a legal reporter can be described as hurried or maybe rigid, but nonetheless, as a student journalist of this course I, along with my 16 other counterparts, were thrown into the deep end. A visit to the Johannesburg Magistrate Court came a bit unexpected.

Court preparation

I might have, by unintended misfortune, forgot to mention that during the past two to three weeks we have had some great guest speakers come talk to Team Vuvuzela in preparation for court week. Among the very elite group was Dario Milo from Wenzel Weller who spoke about media law and defamation. I think the most important sentence which has been imprinted in my mind from that talk is “Defame but do so lawfully.” I now know that my craft is immune to defamation and it is not forbidden.

We also had Gilbert come speak to us about the court structure in South Africa and Franny, who seemed like a very experienced legal reporter and to my surprise she was excellent in teaching us how to target, hit and crack a legal story, which isn’t often the case.

I can say that we were sufficiently informed about courts and laws regarding the media before we entered this week. With this in mind I strolled in this morning quite exhausted but not highly preoccupied with the idea of court, it seemed to me that if I paid attention in class and read my notes it would be like riding a bicycle. To my surprise that was not the case.

We arrive at “Magis” court at 9am sharp. Ready for the day I hurry through the turnstiles, walk through the metal detectors perfectly, everything is fine and I was off to be a “legal reporter” today. It was that feeling of your first day in high school, full of excitement yet nervous to the core of my stomach.

Stumbling our way around magistrate court

First we looked at a schedule of sorts, which basically listed all the court cases which will be held today, in which court room, case number and accusers. I glanced over the crowd to get a peek of what this sheet of paper was all about, impatient to wait in the long queue for my turn I got some cases from a colleague of mine and proceed to jet off to the first court hearing.

The first thing I noticed as I walked into court four was the horribly squeaky wooden floor I had to place my feet on. It hits you like a shockwave and all of sudden, if things were not awkward enough the floor draws all the attention to you and you have 10 people staring at you as you try to make your way to some seat you think is appropriate.

I seat myself down and wait…wait…wait…and nothing seems to happen. People walking in and out, magistrate, security and police men whispering, grumbling sorting out papers, and I find myself utterly confused. I decided to walk out and find another court.

I and two other colleagues of mine find an attorney along the way who is kind enough to direct us to the trials of the day, on a green notice board outside one office in a dark passage. We follow his advice and enter court seven. A drug dealing case, an 18 year old boy arrested for possession of 22 rocks of heroine and two packets of cocaine. The accused has been in custody for the past eight months; he is acquitted and suspended to five years 10 months in prison or a R10 000 fine. Case one done, interesting but could be better. Case two upstairs in the district or regional court was a proper trial and I will be posting my article I wrote on it. Very interesting and educational. The day seemed to be over for me, time to head out of the courts for the day.

A conclusion on how the day’s proceedings went

Magistrate court is mayhem! It is a culture shock, from the architecture to the smells in the court rooms; it is something quite distant to what I am familiar with. It would be something you would have to adjust to and it is not something that comes in a single day.

I will admit I went into the day unprepared but I learnt some hard lessons in the newsroom this afternoon. I know that getting the charge sheet is of utmost importance, speaking to the stenographer, prosecutor or the accused or complainant themselves is empirical for acquiring the details of the case and getting the correct names of practically everyone in the courtroom is something you have to do, whether you like it or not.
Tomorrow is the High Court. So let’s see how this goes and I will keep everyone posted.