PICS | Magistrate's court in Eastern Cape operates from shoddy shipping containers

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The Mtontsasa Magistrate's Court operates inside a shipping container.
The Mtontsasa Magistrate's Court operates inside a shipping container.
PHOTO: Supplied
  • Mtontsasa Magistrate’s Court in Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape looks like a construction site office.
  • The court building is made out of shipping containers put together, with the magistrate and his colleagues seemingly subjected to unbearable working conditions.
  • The metal structure has no air conditioners, no furniture, and is falling apart with broken windows.


You would be forgiven for mistaking the Mtontsasa Magistrate’s Court, in Lusikisiki in the Eastern Cape, for a construction site office.

After all, the court building is made out of shipping containers.

Those who work at the court are subjected to unbearable work conditions.

Mtontsasa Magistrate's Court shipping container
Mtontsasa Magistrate's Court shipping container.
Supplied PHOTO: Supplied

The metal structure has no air conditioners, no furniture, and is falling apart with broken windows.

Justice department employees bemoaned unconducive work conditions during an interview with News24.

They shared how the metal structure gets extremely cold in winter and uncomfortably hot in summer.

The workers, desperate for help, spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Disturbing traffic noise

Because the structure is placed near a busy road used by trucks, the noise from the traffic interrupts court proceedings.

The courtroom can only take a maximum of 15 members of the public, a magistrate, a prosecutor, and an interpreter.

Recorded proceedings cannot be transcribed due to the disturbing noise from trucks passing by, News24 was told by the aggrieved group.

Table and chairs used in makeshift courtroom
At Mtontsasa Magistrate's Court, there is no witness or accused box and there is no high table for the magistrate. The presiding magistrate shares a low profile table with a prosecutor and an attorney.
Supplied PHOTO: Supplied

Despite all the challenges, the group said the court punches above its weight by being one of the best performing courts in the country when it comes to finalising cases.

A source said:

The court will normally have 12 to 15 cases per day and has about 110 to 130 total number of cases on the roll. This office has no furniture at all and has broken windows as you can see from the picture.

The source said the court can accommodate 15 members of the public, a prosecutor, a magistrate, an interpreter, and a stenographer, while the rest of the public apparently have to wait outside most of the time.

Shoddy benches in makeshift courtroom
At Mtontsasa Magistrate's Court, there is no witness or accused box and there is no high table for the magistrate. The presiding magistrate shares a low profile table with a prosecutor and an attorney.
Supplied PHOTO: Supplied

Employees said they had been working under the appalling conditions for more than 10 years.

Piece of land 'donated'

An Eastern Cape lawyer told News24: "I don't know how long this court has been in existence but when I started going there in 2010, it was already there and in the same condition."

The Department of Justice said it was working on a solution to address the issue.

The department said land had been donated by a local chief for construction of an adequate court building.

Department spokesperson Steve Mahlangu said the construction of the court had been delayed by a process of land transfer, which has not yet taken place.

Broken chairs inside makeshift courtroom
Broken chairs inside the makeshift Mtontsasa Magistrate's Court shipping container.
Supplied PHOTO: Supplied

"The local chief donated a piece of land to government, which has not been transferred yet. The solution considered, is the procurement of a mobile unit whilst the process of transfer of land and approval of needs is under way," said Mahlangu.

Mahlangu said the Mtontsasa Magistrate's Court is a periodic court that sits twice a week and deals with about 100 cases.

He said cases used to be heard from a local police station building, until the department received a donation of the shipping containers from a non-government organisation.

The department revealed that the court used to sit once a week, but due to an increased work load, it has opened twice a week since 2019.


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