Khadija Patel: Justice on trial

Khadija Patel. Picture: Supplied.

Khadija Patel. Picture: Supplied.

An article by Khadija Patel on the Oscar Pistorius Trial. Khadija Patel is a writing fellow at the University of Witwatersrand’s Institute for Social and Economic Research (Wiser).


With the Oscar Pistorius trial, it’s not the South African justice system on trial.

“Is it still not over?” an exasperated court official asked me as I sat down next to the water cooler outside his office at the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court. The Oscar Pistorius bail hearing had captured the world’s attention, and it had also sent reporters like me to narrow corridors of the court, searching out a plug and some silence, to file a story.

I smiled apologetically to him.

The circus would go on for another day at least.

“You see,” he said gesturing at the queue of people sitting on a wooden bench ahead of us, “We deal with vulnerable people in this section of the court, and this racket is not helping us do our job.”

I nodded in understanding, slinking back against the cold, brick wall, aware that I was as much the problem as the noisy scrum of photographers a few meters away.

And why exactly were we there anyway?

Earlier that day, another court official had asked me, “So, every time we have a murder case, can we expect all of you here again?”

I offered a coy smile in response to that too, unsure why it was so important for me to be there, to cover this particular bail hearing and not any other.

And as I spied the queue of people on the wooden bench, speculating what had brought them there, breathing the muggy, unforgiving air of the fourth floor of a Pretoria court house, I wondered what exactly made them “vulnerable”. I was forced to confront the reality of other people’s problems, but I also had to be oblivious to them. As though the only thing worthy of my attention in that entire courtroom, the only case that merited my presence, involved Oscar Pistorius.

Sitting cross-legged on the dusty floor, these questions were an unwanted distraction, an unwelcome intrusion, much like the French radio reporter who had just asked if she could share the plug point.

I had a story to file.

More than one year later, I’m still not sure why it was so important for me to be there, telling the story of that bail hearing, rushing to file that story.

The inimitable celebrity of Oscar Pistorius is the most obvious answer, but it is not the whole answer.

And now, with a trial one Sunday paper has billed, “South Africa’s OJ Simpson” moment, those two remarks from the Magistrates Court officials are a pertinent commentary, a valid observation of media behaviour throughout the last year.

There’s no denying this trial makes for a great story. It will have a definite beginning, a middle and an end. There is a victim and a potential villain. The protagonists are clearly defined. The twists and turns will not be predictable. The criteria for a great story are all satisfied, and journalists, in all their guises are essentially storytellers.

But as this story unravels on our television screens, Twitter feeds and radio waves in pockets of sensationalism, some argue that the attention riveted on the Oscar Pistorius trial is valuable as an analysis of the state of the South African criminal justice system.

These attempts to justify the attention for this particular trial and not any of the other hundreds of murder trials that pass through our courts, however, deny the relevance of the courts to our everyday lives.

Whether it is a traffic violation to settle, or maintenance money to chase, the courts do touch our lives. It is not some distant institution that deals with other people’s problems. It handles our problems. It impacts our lives every day and not just when a wealthy sportsman finds himself hauled before a judge.

This trial, however, is not the test of the South African judicial system.

It is Oscar Pistorius on trial for the premeditated murder of Reeva Steenkamp. It is not the South African judicial system. Because whatever shambles the courts are (allegedly) in, the true reality of the judicial system will not be exhibited in the Pretoria High Court for the next few weeks. Pistorius will not be denied a fair trial. If anything, more attention will be paid to the mechanics of justice to ensure our justice system does not exhibit weakness.

The real test of the South African judicial system lies in those murder cases we’ll never hear about, those “vulnerable” people queuing on the wooden bench, the people passing through the court rooms every day whose stories do not make for compelling television. The real tests of the South African judicial system are ignored.

Trial Pandemonium stirred by Oscar Pistorius

Murder-accused Oscar Pistorius appeared at the Pretoria Magistrate’s Court today looking cool, calm and collected according to observers.

This the updated post of the one I published a month ago on Oscar Pistorius. the full post did not show up. Follow the link below to read the full storify version.

[View the story “Trial Pandemonium stirred by Oscar Pistorius ” on Storify]

The eulogy of justice

After a mere four days in court I have come to the conclusion that the South African judiciary system is flawed and incompetent in certain instances. I am left questioning the justice system and why the courts are as insufficient as they are. No doubt we expect the corruption and disjuncture we see in government but I never expected to see this in magistrate courts when dealing with daily crimes.

I might be seen as cynical but this is the reality. Every morning I would walk into a court room and within a matter of a few hours the magistrate would have worked through eight of the ten cases which were placed on the roll for the day.

The sad proceedings of the day

This may seem splendid, it is actually the opposite. The amount of cases that are postponed is outrageous. Cases are postponed if the correctional services forgot to bring the accused to court to appeal, or because the buses for the prisoners are full and they is absolutely no way they can get them to court. Today I walked into a courtroom where a case was postponed because the interpreter for the accused was not in court – flashing red lights! This poor man needs to spend another day in prison and wait another 24 hours, on top of the many months he has already waited just because his interpreter did not pitch.

Another instance, this family had to appear in court today for their trial. The whole family was there including the accused persons and the witnesses, but the case was postponed because the accused people were not assigned a legal aid attorney by the state in their previous appearances in court.

Another example: two men appeared in court today for their trial, they took the stand in front of the magistrate, only to find out two minutes later that the attorney who was suppose to be representing the one male had not pitched. The attorney had been stuck in traffic since 08:30 this morning, and it was 10:15 at the time.

The utter disorganisation of the system

This screams chaos, people come to court everyday in hopes that their misery will come to end and they will be informed about their fate, only to hear that it has been postponed. Most of the time the cases are postponed because of the inefficiency of the state. There is no proper preparation which goes in to the days procedures in court. It seems to me as if everyone walks into court hoping that things will work out and not putting in the required effort for the case to go well. Cases are also removed from the roll because of lack of investigation on the prosecutor or the defense attorneys’ part.

I feel sorry for the poor people who have little or no money for transport and need to make a plan to get to court and they get there only to hear that it has been postponed or has been removed from the roll and they need to come back the next day or at a later stage.
The prisoners’ who come to court for parole, sometimes wait months upon months for their trial to run. Other who are held in custody wait even longer which to me seems good as they get to reflect on their actions they have done but it is a reflection of the insufficient court procedure in this country.

I cannot remember how many times this week I saw a case being postponed because of the demise of the state prosecutor or the attorney. A Lack of evidence, lack of investigation, lack of responsibility of witnesses and lack of proper organization for the day. This is the reason why crimes which were committed years ago are only being dealt with now or are still being dealt with now.

A critical thought

I feel like the court system can be better and more efficient, it is a hard task but with proper procedures in place and people who actually do the jobs they are assigned to, the system will improve.

The question of whether justice is served in this country is also a controversial and unbalanced topic. A typical example is the Anene Booysen case. The man she HERSELF named before she died as her rapist has been acquitted of his charges. It is completely outrageous that in this country ONE person will be charged for a GANG rape.

Another example: #GuptaGate. How is it that our very own President, the central figure in this issue has not said two words about this to the public? Our President is answerable to us, as citizens of South Africa, as to how a foreign plane can land on a military base which is referred to “not a national key point” but still is government property, without anybody knowing about this. Are we secure in this country?

These questions cannot be answered, why they cannot be answered well only our President can tell us this. My personnel opinion of whether justice will be served in this case, no I do not think justice will be served simply because of the relationship the Gupta’s have with our President and evidently a relationship is more important than the rights of citizens of this country. Their relationship also clearly comes before justice. Apparently money and power override everything including the above mentioned.

Why is it that a man who robbed someone with violence is not granted bail but a person, such as Oscar Pistorius who murdered someone, is out on bail? May I add not just out on bail but also living a perfectly normal life, drinking and partying with rich and elite.
My opinion on the Oscar case, he will get off scot free. That is the reality of the justice in this country.