Columns 15.3.2014 10:00 am

One nation, united in search of a verdict

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

It’s the Oscar Pistorius trial, now into its second week, with huge swathes of the population parked off in front of their television sets all day. This is the ultimate reality TV – and already one can see how the siren song of instant celebrity status is transforming dour, jowly lawyers from pedants into performers.

There is an upside to the most recent national obsession: it’s been a crash-course in criminal jurisprudence for millions and a useful addition to the forensic expertise they acquired 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.

I’ve spoken to several dozens of people and none were undecided as to Pistorius’s guilt or innocence.

Given the certitude, it seems pointless to persist with slow-moving, cumbersome judicial processes. We are ready, already, to consider our verdict. Give us a national referendum and let us vote yay or nay.

It could be held on May 7, on the same day as the general election. Not only would that be convenient, but it would galvanise the hordes who, according to polls, are after a mere two decades of democracy so overcome with ennui that they haven’t decided whether or not they’ll be bothered 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 could be seen as an attempt to influence the judiciary – and an offence.

Given the reality now of uncontrollable social media, the courts have sensibly abandoned any attempt to enforce this sub judice law.

But this has had unfortunate consequences. While it doesn’t matter much whether every oke and his chick in the land have a firm and loudly expressed view 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 Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema – out on R100 000 bail and facing fraud, corruption, money-laundering and racketeering charges, as well as owing a R16 million tax bill that culminated in his provisional sequestration – a “young, innocent” victim of corrupt government officials and businessmen.

Speaking at COPE’s election meeting, 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 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 is 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.

 

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