World Cup courts deliver swift justice

2010-06-16 10:13

Doping is banned at the World Cup, but the South African justice

system currently seems to be on steroids.

Faced with a barrage of security questions in the run-up to the

tournament, the host nation has pulled out all the stops to shake off its image

of a criminal haven.

Apart from deploying 41 000 police around stadiums, fanparks,

hotels and tourist sites, and stocking up on helicopters, water cannons and

other equipment, the government has set up 56 dedicated World Cup courts across

the country.

Staffed by dedicated prosecutors working with dedicated teams of

detectives, magistrates and 93 interpreters, these district and regional courts

have been sitting late into the night to try cases linked to the tournament –

with impressive results.

Justice in South Africa has never been this quick. Two armed men

rob three foreign journalists at gunpoint on a Wednesday, police arrest them the

next day and by Friday night they’ve been tried, convicted and started serving

15-year sentences.

The robbery at a hotel in Magaliesburg, west of Johannesburg, was

one of the most serious crimes so far involving foreign fans or media, many of

whom have marvelled at how safe they feel at Africa’s first World Cup.

Musa Mhlanga, a United States scientist of South African origin who

has attended three games in five days, said: “Despite the negative image of

South Africa, I’ve felt a sense of security.”

Contributing to that sense of security is the uncommon zeal with

which crimes involving fans are being investigated and prosecuted.

In Cape Town, a woman who snatched the bag of a Japanese tourist

was arrested, tried and convicted a day later.

Yesterday, police arrested three men within a few hours of four

Chinese journalists being robbed at their lodge in the northeastern host city of


According to National Prosecuting Authority spokesperson Tlali

Tlali, within four days since kickoff, 20 cases have been brought before the

special courts for offences including robbery, theft and fraud.

A small number of foreign visitors have also been nabbed, including

a Frenchman working for a broadcasting services company, who was arrested for

drunken driving.

Of the 20 cases, at least four have been completed, earning the

police and courts praise in a country where some of the world’s highest rates of

crime go hand in glove with some of the lowest conviction rates.

Johan Berger, senior researcher on crime and justice at the

Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies (ISS), said: “There is no bigger

deterrent to crime than a successful prosecutorial system.”

Berger hopes that the “special courts” template can be kept after

the World Cup to tackle the trio of crimes that have stubbornly resisted a

tougher approach on crime in recent years: house robberies, business robberies

and car-jacking.

South Africa is famous for its statistic of 50 murders a day, but

the country endures 18 000 house robberies each year and nearly 15 000


A survey carried out by the ISS among 30 convicted house robbers

showed most had been involved in more than 100 robberies before being arrested,

Berger said.

The success of the World Cup courts sent a message to criminals

that “the chances of getting away with crime is getting smaller”, he said.

Meanwhile, apart from the increased likelihood of getting caught,

criminals that target World Cup fans also face stiff sentences.

The 15-year sentences handed to the two African men convicted of

robbing the three foreign journalists (two Portuguese and one Spanish) in their

room in Magaliesburg was the maximum sentence for the offence and unusual in a

case where no shots were fired.

The men have not yet indicated whether they will appeal the

sentence, Tlali said.

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