The Springs Regional Court on Wednesday allowed media to broadcast the case against the former Aurora directors accused of environmental violations.
Citing public interest, Magistrate Nkhensani Moila ruled that the "public has a right to know what is going on and happening around them". She also said the Oscar Pistorius murder trial in the High Court in Pretoria in March 2014, "changed the justice system" after it was televised live.
This after news channel eNCA requested to film the proceedings on July 15. Lawyers for the accused - Aurora directors Khulubuse Zuma, Zondwa Mandela and Thulani Ngubane - objected and were given a chance to submit their arguments in opposition of the live broadcast.
Zuma, who is the nephew of ex-president Jacob Zuma, was Aurora's former chair. Mandela, late president Nelson Mandela’s grandson, was the mining group's ex-managing director.
In letters to the court by their lawyers, the accused argued their business dealings have been affected by the Aurora matter and despite coming from influential families, they are not public officials. Mandela added that he and his family received death threats over the Aurora matter and if this case is broadcast, he could be in danger again.
The state did not oppose the request to publicise the trial.
Access to Open Justice
But Magistrate Moila ruled the public should not be denied access to open justice and the opportunity to witness the case first-hand.
The failed Aurora Empowerment System mining venture has dragged through the courts for eight years, first as a civil case by former employees who have not been paid their salaries and now as a criminal case.
The former Aurora heads are accused of failing to prevent acid mine drainage from contaminating the Blesbok Spruit, one of the largest wetlands on the Highveld and one of the tributaries of the Vaal River, a key water source for Gauteng.
The court docket also details they ignored a compliance notice to treat the underground mine water and bring it to healthy levels. In bid letters, Aurora claimed to have funding and experience in mining, but the mines soon collapsed.
The four accused were blamed by trade unions for selling off the mine's equipment and failing to pay 5 300 workers their salaries, leaving thousands of dependents destitute. The three accused stood briefly in the dock on Wednesday while a small group of protesters associated with lobby group the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse (Outa) chanted and waved placards outside the courtroom.
The fourth accused, former executive Raja Zainal Alam Shah, did not appear in court on three previous occasions. The National Prosecuting Authority has decided to continue with the case in his absence after the matter was postponed in May to try and locate him.
According to the Organisation Undoing Tax Abuse, he is based in Malaysia. Lawyers for the accused asked to submit further documents ahead of the trial. Magistrate Moila ruled these will need to be handed over by October 15 and they will appear again on November 5.
If the former Aurora directors are found guilty by the court in violation of the Water Act, the directors could face five years imprisonment, a fine and might be ordered to pay for remedial treatment.