Justice and the judge: The deafening silence of a big moment

2014-03-30 14:00

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On the day he was sentenced to death in 1989, 28-year-old Justice Bekebeke told the judge: “I would like the Lord to give you many years so that one day you can see me walking the streets of a free South Africa.”

Twenty-five years later, City Press traced Judge Jan Basson to his home in Kimberley and arranged for the two men to meet for the first time since the sentencing.

Unknown to both, they had lived a few blocks from each other and worked out at the same gym for years.

Basson, now 82 and frail after two recent operations, welcomes us into his home on the suburban outskirts of Kimberley, where his wife passes around carrot juice.

Sitting next to each other on a couch, sipping juice, the moment between the two men is big and filled with silence. They speak in Afrikaans.

Basson says: “Tell me, I believe you also went on and qualified in law?”

Bekebeke grins and says: “Yes. I started my legal studies in prison.”

They reminisce over old times.

“I’m very glad to see you,” says Basson. “I remember sitting in that courtroom. It was so warm, 40 degrees. I used to watch you guys through the window walking from the cells, singing. That was a long time ago.”

Soon, Bekebeke gets up to leave.

Extending his arms, he helps up the frail old man who once condemned him to death.

Bekebeke strides from the house, down a pathway lined with roses: a free man, a smiling man, a man with purpose.

“This was very significant for me, very much so. I need to go home and think now,” he says. “I forgave the judge a long time ago. He was just doing his job.”

Behind us, Basson leans on his wife and waves goodbye.

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