Same justice for all?

2008-11-25 00:00

I HAVE always believed that one has to be rich to make the most of the judicial system. The poor have a much harder time getting justice. I now have reason to amend this. It is still necessary to have the means to engage the system but these days it helps to be either a high-ranking member of the ruling party or to be connected to it.

This is not new because as far back as 2000 the late Dullah Omar, our former justice minister, forsook all sense of propriety by going to the airport to welcome Allan Boesak who had been out of the country and who was accused of fraud, and who could not account for money intended for children and the poor. He was later found guilty and spent time in prison but was later rehabilitated and pardoned.

But the tempo has increased and Tony Yengeni received five-star treatment on his way to prison for fraud and when he was released shortly afterwards. He was accompanied and treated as a hero by other worthies, some of whom are also tainted by scandal. But these examples of questionable behaviour pale when recent news items are scrutinised.

Many high-profile cases are being funded by the taxpayer in one form or another. The African National Congress president in his long battles with the law has had ample funds put at his disposal. Similarly Robert McBride’s legal battles have been paid for by the metro that employs him. While these may be irritating to the ordinary citizen there are other things that are even more problematic. These are sinister and alarming, and must not be allowed to fall under the radar. In fact we should be making a hullabaloo about them.

The first whiff came with the burglary in which the McBride files were stolen in what was described as a well-planned theft by people impersonating the police, followed later by the theft of the magistrate’s notes in the same case.

There is also the case of Judge Nkola Motata, who is being tried for allegedly driving under the influence of alcohol and driving into a wall. At first I thought this was another of those cases where being rich would assist in getting the best outcome. The case seemed to be going rather well in favour of the state when a very strange thing happened. Suddenly the witnesses either had amnesia or started making contradictory statements, or appeared not to want to be in-volved. As if this was not enough, the blood samples were disputed and wrong information was apparently supplied. I say strangely because it suddenly fitted into a pattern.

Not satisfied that the witnesses seemed reluctant in the latter part of the trial it looked as though right from the outset the evidence was being set up in such a way that it would fail scrutiny because the normal guidelines had been flouted. Hence the time frame of the sample, the name of the police station and even the status of the person (in this case a judge) were all rather conveniently messed up. In another province the blood sample of Yengeni was also being disputed and undue interference has been suggested in court. Was this pure coincidence or more than that?

It has not been enough for the certain members of the ruling elite to get away with the various instances of corruption that we know of and the way that certain people have undermined the laws that govern the behaviour of the citizens. No one is immune from the might of the law and neither must anyone be allowed to interfere in the course of their duties to help anyone to evade the law of the land. This must be seen in conjunction with the known corruption within the judicial system, for example, the loss of case dockets for a fee, or the evidence that goes missing, or whatever the scam of the month is. It is extremely disturbing because it indicates a system so dysfunctional that it is a wonder that it still operates. More pertinent is whether it operates at all against the high and mighty. Yet there are many people who are dedicated and hard-working and one can only wonder at the effect this kind of malign influence has on them.

However, this is not the only worrying affair. The killing of the alleged murderers of the policeman Superintendent Zethembe Chonco, who was ambushed and shot and was involved in important cases, is chilling. Aided and abetted by politicians who are suddenly interested in the crime wave because it is election season, they are promoting the idea of fighting back with extreme force. However, in the case of this murder almost every one of the alleged murderers is now dead. No court has found them guilty and the public has no idea of what the evidence against these people was so that it looks like official vigilantism.

With the high levels of corruption one can only wonder what there was to hide that all these people were killed rather than taken to court.

Dead men tell no tales and what were the tales they could have told? Was it corruption or complicity in murder? Will the truth ever come out? If this is the wrong inference then we are entitled to know the truth. These are questions that all law-abiding citizens should de-mand answers for.

We all live under the constant threat of crime but we must never become complacent and allow our guard to drop. Seemingly deliberate negligence must be exposed and such a furore created that appropriate sanction will have to be taken to stop it. Constitutional rights must be defended no matter how inconvenient it may seem or we will live to regret the fact that we were indifferent to their protection, for it will surely backfire when those we know are the next victims.

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