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22 Nov 2010 16:14
Judgment was reserved in the media application for access to the murder trial of right-winger Eugene Terre’Blanche, the Ventersdorp Magistrate’s Court ruled on Monday.
Argument was heard and a late application for access to proceedings was also made by the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) for the Terre’Blanche family and the movement’s leadership.
Chris Mahlangu and his co-accused—a minor who may not be named—are due to stand trial after Terre’Blanche was found beaten to death at his farmhouse in Ventersdorp in April.
The minor’s attorney, Zola Majavu, told reporters outside court that he did not oppose the media’s application but would oppose the AWB’s to protect the child’s identity.
Majavu said the minor, who would soon turn 16, was not eating properly because of the case.
“He is doing relatively well but not eating well because he is concerned about trial. Physically he is okay but he is mentally shaken.
He has never been through something like this before”.
The trial date was set for a week from December 6, but Majavu said this was unrealistic because it would take more than a week to go through 21 witnesses.
Judgement in the media application was reserved to December 2.
The court heard that there was a serious, compelling and profound public interest in the case and closing it would undermine the principle of open justice.
Acting on behalf of the media, advocate Steve Budlender argued that the killing sparked a public debate on race relations, raised the question of whether the crime was politically motivated, and dealt with speculation of sodomy, as well as allegations that the murder was linked to the singing of a song containing the phrase the “shoot the Boer” by the African National Congress Youth League.
“This is no ordinary murder trial”.
In court papers filed by the media houses, Terre’Blanche was described as a man of notoriety and that full transparency in the trial was crucial.
“Regardless of what the trial ultimately reveals was the motive—it is of profound public importance that this is made known,” it said.
“Given the wide range of speculation it is of supreme importance that the correct state of affairs, as revealed through the trial process, comes to light.”
There was further speculation about the way the crime scene was handled and suggestions that the AWB would attempt to avenge their leader’s death, the court heard.
‘A private trial would be best for the child’
Budlender proposed that the court permit 14 journalists to be present at the trial with conditions attached, and he stressed that it would not harm the minor’s rights to a fair trial.
He submitted that if the application was unsuccessful, the media would rely on comments and soundbytes from the National Prosecuting Authority and legal representatives involved in the case. Speculation could then undermine justice, he said.
Acting on behalf of Media Monitoring Africa, advocate Ann Skelton said the best way to give a child accused a fair trial is for it to be private.
“There is a big difference in what is public interest and what the public is interested in. What is going on behind the scenes is not public interest.”
Skelton urged the court to take a narrow approach in its decision. She contended that this could lead to further applications being filed which could change the atmosphere of the court room.
State prosecutor George Baloyi submitted that public interest could not interpret that minors in low-profile cases would enjoy the protection of law, while minors in high profile cases would not, and said it amounted to the unequal treatment of children.
While dozens of black farm workers toyi-toyied outside the courthouse singing loudly, AWB members in khaki uniforms lined the street carrying their movement’s swastika emblem flags high. No violence was reported.—Sapa
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