How we ‘gatecrashed’ the Nkandla hearings

2014-10-01 00:00

THE state’s prosecutor was shot down in flames when she tried to eject a Witness reporter from a key Nkandla inquiry yesterday.

Instead, the Department of Public Works (DPW), and the Presidency will have to endure full coverage of their case against 13 civil servants — as well as their potentially sensational evidence in defence.

The drama began when lawyers for Media24 — senior advocate Andrea Gabriel and media attorney Willem de Klerk — arrived uninvited, and accompanied by two reporters, to hearing rooms on the 15th floor of the Club Place building.

The attorneys had submitted a written request for press access to the traditionally closed disciplinary hearings on Monday to the DPW’s legal department.

But 20 minutes before the hearing of DPW employee Jean Rindel yesterday, neither Gabriel nor Rindel’s union even knew the identity of its chairperson.

When the chairperson arrived — and was revealed to be Durban advocate Joseph Nxusani — he was so surprised to find media lawyers present that he asked “Am I in the right room?”.

Prosecutor Lynette Naidoo described the Media 24 presence as “gatecrashing” and not only objected to the request for access to the hearing, but also to The Witness and Beeld reporters being present.

In a tense exchange, the prosecutor said to Gabriel: “Until this is decided, can we ask your people to sit outside?” Gabriel shot back with “No. We are asserting a right.”

Nxusani ruled that two Media24 print reporters could have full access, and that there “was no reason” why one reporter from each rival media house should not also be allowed access. De Klerk said the ruling “is a victory for press freedom, and sets an important precedent”.

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