Retired judge takes no prisoners
Cape Town - Wednesday's proceedings in the Maqubela murder trial brought lively exchanges when retired Western Cape judge Denis van Reenen was called to testify.
The judge was the first to arrive, and as he sat quietly in the courtroom waiting for the proceedings to start, he read his cellphone messages.
He then joined in a friendly conversation between a journalist and a member of the defence team, attorney Randall Titus, about the controversial protection of state information bill.
As they chatted about politics and politicians, the judge noticed, too late, that a newspaper photographer had stealthily taken a photograph of him from behind.
A heated confrontation followed, in which the judge asked the photographer what right he had to take photographs of him without his permission.
The somewhat shaken photographer tried to back off, but the angered judge said he had a constitutional right to privacy.
He warned there would be consequences if his photograph appeared in any newspaper without his consent.
When the judge left the courtroom after the completion of his testimony, photographers out in the street were waiting for him and another heated confrontation followed.
In the witness stand itself, Van Reenen had lively exchanges with Thandi Maqubela's defence counsel Marius Broeksma.
Maqubela and co-accused Vela Mabena are on trial before Judge John Murphy for the alleged murder of Maqubela's husband Patrick, who at the time of his death in June 2009 was an acting judge in the Western Cape High Court.
After clashing with Broeksma about his suggestion that Van Reenen could be mistaken about a telephone call he had received from the widow, Broeksma questioned Van Reenen about his testimony that the deceased had had a reputation for diligence.
Broeksma said: "I'm going to question you about the deceased's work ethic."
To which Van Reenen blurted: "As judges, we don't stand looking over each other's shoulders."
Broeksma then asked Van Reenen to read aloud SMS messages from a bundle of messages.
Van Reenen responded: "Why must I read this?"
Broeksma said he would suggest that, from time to time, Maqubela had not turned up for work.
Broeksma said: "There is also evidence that on the Friday of his death, the deceased's secretary called him via the intercom in his apartment, between 10:00 and 11:00, and that the deceased was able to answer.
Van Reenen replied: "For the deceased to have been at home at that time, would be incompatible with the man I knew."
The trial continues on Thursday.