Georgina Guedes

What was the premier doing there?

2014-03-07 16:02

 Georgina Guedes

I was a little taken aback to see that Nomvula Mokonyane, premier of Gauteng, was at the Oscar Pistorius trial earlier this week. She sat behind Reeva Steenkamp’s family, wearing a badge with Reeva’s face on it, and she sat with the ANC Women’s League. So, not an impartial observer then.

Before I launch into my concerns about Mokonyane’s presence at the trial, let me make it abundantly clear that I am a strong supporter of women’s rights and a campaigner for women’s issues. I am violently opposed to the oppression and victimisation of women.

I also have absolutely no idea what happened in the early hours of Valentine’s morning in 2013, so I have no opinion on whether or not Oscar is guilty of premeditated murder (although I am confident that he’s guilty of being a chop, whichever way you look at it).

Her justifications

Mokonyane has explained her presence there in a number of ways. She has said that Reeva’s death is painful to every South African woman. She has said that the Women's League is about issues relating to the rights of women, and that it is important to remember the victim in this case.

The truth is that in a year, we have lost sight of this. Newspapers are gleefully reporting that “Oscar screams like a girl” without being appropriately sensitive to the fact that there is a murder victim here, and a man who either did or did not intend to kill her, who may or may not spend the rest of his life in prison.

But when Mokonyane appears in court, she’s not simply showing respect for the victim; she’s politicising the issue. Reeva and Oscar were not South Africa’s “everycouple”. I know that domestic violence crosses all economic, racial and cultural boundaries, but I would be a lot more sympathetic to the premier’s stated cause if she attended court cases about domestic violence involving less publicised victims and perpetrators.

Justice in action

It’s also clear that she’s not familiar with the way that our justice system works. She has spoken out against how she says witnesses are being made into victims. “Our sitting in court has shown us how sometimes those who want to contribute towards fairness can be made to look very incoherent and thrown away from what is at stake here.”

And later: “Their integrity is at stake because of their honesty.”

This is, quite simply, the functioning of the justice system. The defence and the state build their cases and present them, and try to discredit the other side. What we’re seeing here is a standard courtroom scenario playing out under close scrutiny, and involving some of the best lawyers in the country.

Would Mokonyane rather Oscar’s defence team simply said, “Oh, gosh, you’re sure you heard a woman scream before the shots fired, and you’re sure they were shots? Oh well, let’s pack up and go home. Throw the man in jail.”

Obviously not.

Not the best place

And while I agree with Mokonyane that there should be stronger sentences for the perpetrators of violence against women and children, I’m not sure that Pistorius’s trial, no matter how high-profile it is, is the best place for this kind of advocacy.

She’s displaying little faith in the justice system of a country governed by her own political party. Surely there are internal structures that she could access to demand the rights she seeks for women?

Grandstanding at a court case in this way could be seen as trying to influence the outcome – since she’s made it very clear on which side of the story her sympathies lie.

I agree that the focus on Reeva as a victim has been lost in all the proceedings – cricket bats, gunshots, screaming, times, cross-examination – but I believe that Mokonyane should let the courts do their work, while she does hers. And if her work is campaigning for the rights of women in her province to the appropriate structures, then fantastic. But to add political pressure to an already fraught trial is not an appropriate or thoughtful action.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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Read more on:    reeva steenkamp  |  oscar pistorius  |  pistorius trial

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