William Saunderson-Meyer
William Saunderson-Meyer

One nation, united, in search of a verdict

This is South Africa at its very best. One nation, irrevocably divided, with liberty and justice for all who can afford it.

No, I speak not of the general election campaign as the squabbling picks up steam. Although with all the bile being spewed, as politicians rubbish not only their opponents but also the demographic groups that they represent, it’s a timely reminder that Nelson Mandela’s reconciliation dividend is now well and truly spent. Consequently, we’re having to endure levels of illogic and invective that surely exceed the World Health Organisation’s recommended safe limits.

Of what I speak is the Oscar Pistorius trial, now into its second week and steadily dragging down worker productivity to festive season lows, as huge swathes of the population park off in front of their television sets for hours every day, immersed in the real life gore and drama of how Oscar offed Reeva. This is the ultimate reality television and already one can see how the siren song of instant celebrity status is transforming our dour, jowly lawyers from pedants into performers.

One mustn’t be snobbish. There is an upside to the most recent national obsession — it’s been a crash-course in criminal jurisprudence for millions of South Africans and a useful addition to the forensic expertise they have already acquired from watching CSI Miami. In a low-skill, high-unemployment economy with staggering levels of criminal violence and corruption, that can only be a good thing. Expect university entrance applications by prospective law students to rocket.

Over the past week, I’ve spoken to several dozens of people and none was undecided, one way or the other, as to Pistorius’ guilt or innocence. In the face of such certitude, it seems pointless to persist with these slow moving, cumbersome judicial processes. We are ready, already, to consider our verdict. Why not just have a national referendum and let us vote, yay or nay?

The referendum could be held on May 7, on the same day as the general election. Not only would that be a convenient and cheap solution — just one more space to fill out on the ballot paper — but it would galvanise the hordes who, according to the polls, are after a mere two decades of democracy so overcome with ennui that they can’t decide whether they’ll bother to drag their indifferent arses to the polling stations to vote.

It used to be that any suggestion in the media as to the guilt or innocence of an accused, even were he caught in flagrante delicto with a smoking pistol and a dead maiden at his feet, would be seen as an attempt to influence the judiciary and an offence.  Given the present day reality of an innately uncontrollable social media, which in millions of individual postings can instantaneously span the globe, the South African courts have abandoned any attempt to enforce this sub judice law.

That was a sensible acknowledgement of changed circumstances but it has had unfortunate consequences. While it doesn’t matter much whether every oke and his chick in every pub and coffee house in the land have firm and loudly expressed views on an accused’s guilt, it does matter when influential public figures with large and malleable constituencies, and axes to grind, do the same. 

Congress of the People (COPE) leader Mosiuoa Lekota this week declared that Economic Freedom Front leader Julius Malema –out on R100,000 bail facing fraud, corruption, money-laundering and racketeering charges, as well as a R16-million tax bill that culminated in his provisional sequestration – was a ‘young, innocent’ victim of corrupt government officials and businessmen.

Speaking at COPE’s election manifesto launch, Lekota said to loud applause: ‘You see, they tell us he owed that money, but they don’t tell us … where did he get such amounts of money to owe that amount?’ Lekota said, 

The explanation, Lekota said, was that ‘it was not Malema who stole the money, it was the ones who were controlling the government that stole the money and passed it to him, and it was recorded in his name. That’s why he has been accused.’ 

I guess one should be pleased for Malema that he has been declared not guilty. After all, it just wouldn’t do to one day have as president a man who is dishonest. But what we really want to know about is Pistorius, Judge Lekota. Did he do it? Please tell. The suspense is killing us.

Ends

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