Mind your language: the Pistorius trial

2014-04-03 00:00

AS the defence prepares to call on its witnesses in the Oscar Pistorius trial, one can’t help but reflect on the events as they unfolded from March 3.

Parallels have been drawn between this trial and O.J. Simpson’s in the United States, with the former being a first for South Africa in terms of exposing many of us to how the justice system works. With any luck, we’ll probably be able to decipher how much money talks when the judge deliberates over the state and defence’s cases.

And it’s been quite a soap opera-esque few weeks, the first of which saw the accused barely making it out of court in one piece as he was hounded by the media — steadfast as flies on a pile of poo.

Then there was the unforeseen harassment of witnesses, aided to a certain extent by defence advocate Barry Roux carelessly reading out one witness’s phone number to all and sundry.

Horror and intrigue have come out equally from inside the courtroom. One could literally find oneself on the edge of one’s seat on some days, as some of the testimony made for riveting viewing. Pistorius’s ex-girlfriend Samantha Taylor actually left advocate Gerrie Nel pink in the face at one point when he asked: “How many times have you heard the accused scream?”

Taylor: “A couple of times, my lady [slight giggle],” cough.

Nel: “Would you say he screams like a woman?”

Taylor: “No, my lady. He screams like a man.”

Maybe a little too much information there, lass!

Other days, particularly those on which expert witnesses gave testimony with cold, hard facts, were a little bit bland. Boredom seeping in, one was left with very little to do but start poking fun at Colonel Schoombie van Rensburg’s awful 3D lime and brown tie. Eish!

In an unprecedented move to ensure that the public bears witness to justice being served, the introduction of the media (and therefore the rest of us) into the fray — although measured and controlled — has taken something away from the seriousness of it all; the grim reality that one family has lost a loved one through a senseless crime. It seems that genuine empathy for the Steenkamp family is lacking and they’ve been shifted to the periphery as the spotlight shines on a fallen star.

Nevertheless, I’ve been fascinated by the drama in the interpretation department. I don’t remember when last our country was subjected to as many cringe-worthy moments as it has been during this trial. To say the translation process has been cumbersome would be a gross understatement. Stating things verbatim is clearly rocket science, and then some.

It’s been three weeks of apparently qualified interpreters getting cold feet (delaying court proceedings) and coughing attacks. We’ve witnessed a total lack of listening skills, witnesses being cut off, an overbearing voice, and what happened to personal space, people? Talk about egg on the Department of Justice’s face.

I admit to having initially bemoaned some of the state witnesses’ use of Afrikaans on the stand. The rationale was that it was “clear” they understood and could speak English. But, it is one thing to understand and be competent in a language, and another to be fluent. Hence freedom of speech in any of South Africa’s 11 official languages is enshrined in the Constitution. So many things can go wrong through misinterpretation. It soon became clear that most of the witnesses were forced to change to English out of sheer frustration with the dodgy interpreting. The interpretation fiasco and the bungling of the crime scene are only the tip of the iceberg. It should be a wake-up call for our criminal-justice system. But in true Advocate Roux style, what if I put it to you that once the cameras are eventually switched off, we’ll go back to living life in the mediocre lane?

— News24.

• Gomotsegang Motswatswe is a political scientist, freelance writer and blogger, with a passion for children’s rights, the arts and media.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.