EDITORIAL: We can’t suspend the rule of law

2017-05-18 13:02

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It has become customary for crowds to gather outside courthouses, hurling abuse and demanding that the accused be denied bail.

These angry protests usually dissipate once the aggrieved supporters of the victims have had their say.

This was not the case in the North West town of Coligny, where two white men stand accused of killing a black teenager they suspected of stealing a sunflower.

It was clear days before the court appearance that the granting of bail to Pieter Doorewaard and Phillip Schutte – who allegedly killed 16-year-old Matlhomola Mosweu – would spark a fierce backlash.

Coligny’s long-suffering black community had earlier reacted violently to news of Mosweu’s death.

In a country where power and privilege wear white faces and deprivation wears a black face, the granting of bail was bound to be seen through a racial lens.

As soon as Magistrate Makgaola Foso granted the men bail, the town exploded.

As did the commentary on radio talk shows and social media. Foso immediately became the target of a lynch mob, which accused him of being in cahoots with the “Boers”.

This is dangerous.

The law is clear that a decision has to be in the interest of justice.

The accused are entitled to presumption of innocence and can therefore not be unfairly detained.

The law is also clear on the circumstances under which bail can be denied.

In the Coligny case, the court was satisfied that the two met all the requirements for bail.

Foso also rejected the state’s submission that he should consider the impact on public disorder, saying the court could not “be held ransom [as it is its] fundamental function to dispense justice in line with the legal principle”.

While there is no doubt that the people of Coligny and most of rural South Africa have been failed by a state that doesn’t protect them from cruel and abusive employers, this is no reason to endorse the undermining of the rule of law.

Read more on:    makgaola foso  |  pieter doorewaard  |  phillip schutte  |  matlhomola mosweu  |  coligny

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