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I have the right to remain silent

This was published in Grocott’s Mail on November 17 2006:

Captain Riaan Havenga pulled out a brown file stamped with the SAPS badge and started to fill it in.





“ID number?” I rattled off the numbers and he wrote them down and then paused. His lips formed into a small smile. He stretched out his hand to shake mine. “I bet the last birthday present you wanted is a cop on your doorstep.”

Last week Friday, Captain Havenga had come to the offices of Grocott’s Mail to inform me that I was a suspect in a criminal investigation.

“We are investigating two charges against you — contravening section 11(2)a of the Domestic Violence Act No 116 of 1998 and the second charge is contempt of court,” he said.

“You have the right to remain silent,” he continued.

I nodded and informed him that I would be claiming that right.

My alleged crime? A report on page two of a previous edition of Grocott’s Mail. The article was about a woman who had gone to court seeking a protection order against her boyfriend — a public official.

The newspaper is now at the centre of a criminal investigation for allegedly breaking the section of the Domestic Violence Act that reads: “No person shall publish in any manner information which might, directly or indirectly, lead to the identity of any party to the proceedings.” As editor, I’m in the firing line.

If convicted I could find myself sharing a cell with Schabir Shaik or Tony Yengeni (when Tony went to jail someone forgot to tell him that he was going to serve time behind bars, not in bars). The penalty for violating this section of the Act, if convicted, is a fine or a prison sentence not exceeding five years or both.

I don’t want to go into the details of the “crime” (I have the right to remain silent), but I believe that this is a malicious attack on the newspaper and media freedom.

It reminded me of my first brush with the law in Johannesburg 16 years ago.

I was part of a group of Wits students who had gone to stage a sit-in at an empty school in Blairgowrie to protest against the glaring inequalities in black and white schools. This school was unused while there were other schools a few kilometres away with more than 60 children squeezed into a single classroom. We were rounded up and herded into Casspirs and jailed at John Vorster Square for the night.

“Did they at least give you a nice cup of tea?” my concerned mother asked when she fetched me from the police station the following morning.

A few weeks later we pleaded guilty. Our lawyer — a fresh Wits law graduate — so infuriated the magistrate with his court posturing, clearly gleaned from LA Law, that for a horrible moment I thought we might be sentenced to death for trespassing.

The police should be going after the criminal elements in the community; the women beaters, rapists and killers — not hippie students or newspaper editors who publish reports in the public interest.

Captain Havenga is investigating his case against me just before the launch of the 16 Days of Activism against women and child abuse. Meanwhile, the brown docket that represents the investigation into the killers and rapists of two Grahamstown women — Christina Royi and Boniwe “Hola” Ngwendu — gathers dusts.

On September 24, 44-year-old Royi and her 78-year-old aunt Ngwendu were raped and murdered in what has been described as one of the worst crimes in the history of Grahamstown. The double murder and rape left frightened members of the community calling for a state of emergency.

In one of those quirky community newspaper coincidences, while Havenga was reading me my rights, the newspaper’s presses were printing the day’s edition that contained a group photograph of students. One of the students was Captain Havenga, beaming after receiving a certificate for completing a forensic psychology course at Rhodes.

It is these skills that he learnt on the course that Captain Havenga could put to better use tracking down Christina and Hola’s killers. He is one of the town’s crack detectives (after all he used Sherlock Holmes deduction skills to work out that it was my birthday). But no, he is investigating me. Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt that a successful prosecution of me would make members of the community sleep better.

I have the right to remain silent. But when it comes to authorities trampling all over the press when they should be investigating real criminals, well, then I choose my right to freedom of expression.