Ficksburg rejoices in Tatane trial

2011-04-30 15:05

At some stage it felt as if Magistrate Phillip Visser sympathised with the eight police officers in the dock in connection with the assault and death of Andries Tatane and he would grant them bail as he delivered his judgment into their bail application.

Visser quoted sections of the Criminal Procedure Act, which dealt with the rights of people on trial, and this gave some the impression that he was going to deliver a verdict in favour of the accused.

But then, at times during his judgment, it felt as if Visser was in the same mind with the multitudes who kept vigil outside the court, whose singing echoed through the packed courtroom, voicing their opposition to the granting of bail.

In the end, the court orderlies who often have their hands full maintaining order, were left with almost nothing to do as the 40 or so people who crammed into court sat as if mummified, listening and waiting in suspense.

On Voortrekker street, the singing continued, echoing through the courtroom, as if it was a chorus to Visser’s legally balanced and calculated address which took almost an hour.

Visser spoke in a voice that was calm and confident, often pausing to look at the eight accused in the dock and at the public gallery.

The eight, all officers attached to the public order policing unit in Bloemfontein, were dressed in civilian clothes and stood in the dock looking straight ahead throughout proceedings.

It was not clear if Visser paid any particular attention to the singing outside, which at times sounded like a buzz from a huge swarm of bees ready to deliver deadly stings to whoever went against their wishes.

Tatane’s widow Mmalehlohonolo, draped in a tjale, a sign of a grieving widow, sat quietly in the front row in the public gallery next to her sister-in-law Seipati, flanked by extended family and friends.

First, Visser touched on the circumstances that led to the march that eventually resulted in Tatane’s death.

He also quoted parts of the criminal procedures act that deals with the rights of the accused, that they are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

He also said he was satisfied that there was no evidence that the accused would intimidate witnesses, interfere with the investigation or abscond.

At this point it all seemed lost for Tatane’s supporters. But then Visser went on the offensive again, this time talking about pathetic service delivery and how Tatane was an outstanding citizen who was neither a rogue nor a criminal.

He also quoted extensively on the evidence of a Mr Selokoe, who during an earlier bail application, had testified that Tatane was “a gold coin” for the community of Meqheleng.

Visser alluded to the media frenzy that followed Tatane’s death, the unrest that hit the township of Meqheleng and the opposition to bail from the community after the arrest of the police officers.

Quoting sections of the criminal procedures act, Visser said he had considered the outrage and shock that followed Tatane’s killing and the likelihood that releasing the suspects on bail could destabilise public order considering Tatane’s standing in community and the circumstances around his death.

Visser said releasing the accused on bail would also undermine and jeopardise the public’s confidence in the criminal justice system.

In the end, the court room reverberated with a collective sigh of relief when Visser said: “I have come to the conclusion that it is not in the interests of justice to release the accused on bail.”

He postponed the matter to June 2 for further investigation and ordered that the accused be remanded in custody.

Out on Voortrekker street, the crowd which had now swollen to thousands, sang and chanted joyously when news of Visser’s decision reached them.

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