/ 10 September 2008

Buying justice

What do Jacob Zuma, lion feeder Mark Scott-Crossley and Linda Mti have in common?

On the face it of it, nothing — and ANC president Jacob Zuma’s supporters probably feel insulted by this comparison.

But, for me, they are three examples of how money buys justice.

Is it not Zuma who has already spent R10-million in legal fees, before his corruption case has taken off, and has explored every possible little legal loophole to discredit and destroy the case against him?

As for Mark Scott-Crossley, is he not the chap who spent thousands of rands to employ smart lawyers who not only saved him from serving life imprisonment, but also ensured he was back on the streets a few years after throwing Oupa Chisale into a lion enclosure? This while his accomplice, Simon Mathebula, who did not have financial muscle like him, languishes in jail serving a murder sentence.

There is a great deal of anger about this case, but much of it was misdirected at correctional services for releasing him halfway into his sentence. It is fairly standard for prisoners to be released halfway through their sentence and I personally know of many such cases. But, in any event, in Scott-Crossley’s case I suspect that his mere release, even if he had served his full five-year sentence, would still have upset many people who rightfully can’t understand how a man who fed a man to lions could be sentenced to five years.

So let’s leave correctional services out of the picture. I still struggle with the Supreme Court of Appeal’s (SCA) judgement that overturned his conviction. The SCA found that Scott-Crossley was “dragooned” (their word) by his employees into throwing the body to the lions. It rejected the lower court’s finding that there was a normal worker-baas, farmer-farmworker relationship between Scott-Crossley and his co-accused workers, because he listened to them when they asked him not to shoot Chisale.

“They addressed each other by their first names: the appellant called Mnisi ‘Rob’ and he called the appellant ‘Mark’. A further example of their closeness is — that during the fatal evening Mnisi bought beers and invited the appellant to have one with him. The above discussion illustrates the danger of stereotyping which may result in unfair and unwarranted generalisations being made. Such generalisations are to be avoided in judicial reasoning as they may result in a miscarriage of justice,” the SCA found.

I find the deductive reasoning above troubling. But sadly this was a crucial conclusion as it went to demonstrate that they did not act on Scott-Crossley’s instruction and were therefore individually personally responsible for the murder.

It also allowed Scott-Crossley to get away with arguing that he was coerced into his actions. I believe that another court could have come to a different conclusion, but I leave that to the lawyers.

A more troubling point is that Mathebula rots in jail and his state-appointed lawyers did not have the drive, interest or finesse to appeal his sentence. Who will ever test his case and who knows if he might not be at home by now if he had good, willing lawyers? How many more poorly represented accused fill our jails because they could not afford half the decent lawyers Scott-Crossley had? The justice system is still skewed in favour of the rich.

The point was demonstrated recently when former correctional services commissioner Linda Mti, with senior counsel, won his drunken-driving charge and an internal National Prosecuting Authority investigation later found that the prosecutor assigned to the case was too junior (only seven months’ experience) to be pitting his wits against the lawyers in that prominent case.

The ANC Youth League, the SACP and Cosatu can say all they want about Zuma’s affinity with the working class, but if the future president can amass R10-million to fight a single case while his working-class supporters are left to make do with uninterested and sometimes incompetent legal-aid public defenders, then it is true: the more things change, the more they stay the same.