/ 18 January 2008

Lekota: ‘I have learned a hard lesson’

Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota was on Friday sentenced to a R5 000 fine or 12 months’ imprisonment for reckless and negligent driving.

Wearing a dark suit, glasses with gold frames and accompanied by his bodyguard, Lekota pleaded guilty to exceeding the national speed limit.

Last Sunday, at 10.44pm, Lekota was arrested for driving at 189km/h in a 120km/h zone near Grasmere toll plaza on the N1 North.

He was released on R1 000 bail.

In a statement read by the defence, Lekota said he admitted that what he had done was wrong.

He also said he admitted he had set a bad example as a minister and felt ”intense remorse”.

”I have learned a hard lesson,” he said in the statement.

Lekota then took the witness stand at the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court.

He told the court that on the night of his arrest for speeding, he was travelling home from a funeral in the southern Free State, where he had spent most of the day.

”I was anxious to get home.”

Lekota said that because it was late at night there was very little traffic on the road and therefore, even though he had been speeding, he did not interfere with other drivers.

”I cooperated fully with traffic officials and did not ask for any special favours. Like any citizen, I fully complied with the law.”

Lekota said both he and his family had already suffered from very unpleasant publicity. ”To an extent I have already suffered.”

Said prosecutor Phiros Silinda: ”I don’t have much [in response] because the accused has already admitted he is very, very sorry.”

In handing down sentence, the magistrate said that by pleading guilty Lekota had shown a degree of remorse and he had not wasted the court’s time.

He took into account that Lekota had no previous convictions, and the fact that no accident was caused also had to be noted.

However, the fact that the ”root cause of much of the carnage of our roads is through speeding” needed consideration.

The magistrate said the public would also expect a well-known public figure to display a high degree of respectability. However, the position of the accused also should not be over-emphasised, he said.

An inquiry into whether Lekota should have his licence suspended would not be held, he said.

A few dozen members of the South African National Defence Force Union (Sandu) attended the court proceedings.

Afterwards they held a demonstration outside, singing Umshini Wami.

Some bore placards saying ”Lekota, a disgrace, criminal, lock him up.”

One of the protesters said: ”He failed us … He must just go to jail, that’s all”.

Sandu spokesperson Pikkie Greef said the union was not satisfied with the R5 000 fine.

”It doesn’t make an example of him … He is allowed to get away [with it]… a minister guilty of an offence that endangers the lives of citizens.”

Lekota emerged from the court building and was hastily driven away in the same black Mercedes Benz he was driving when arrested last week.

The protesters jeered in his wake. — Sapa