/ 22 November 2010

Terre’Blanche family apply for access to trial

The family of slain Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) leader Eugene Terre’Blanche and AWB leadership applied for access to the trial of the two people accused of his murder.

Lawyer Franz van der Westhuizen made the late application on Monday after the court heard argument for and against allowing the media conditional access to the trial, which involves a minor.

Earlier, acting on behalf of the media, Steve Budlender argued that the Terre’Blanche killing sparked a public debate on race relations and raised the question of whether the crime was politically motivated.

He said speculation also linked the murder to the singing of the “Shoot the Boer” song by the ANC Youth League.

“This is no ordinary murder trial. Mr Terre’Blanche was no ordinary man,” he said.

“There was also speculation about the way the crime scene was handled … and suggestions that the AWB would attempt to avenge Mr Terre’Blanche’s death,” court papers said.

Budlender proposed that the court permit 14 journalists to be present at the trial with conditions attached.

Two journalists would be from e.tv, two from Media24 and 10 whose publications are affiliated to the South African National Editors Forum.

Well-versed on criminal proceedings
The order states that the 14 reporters would not release the name of the child accused, and would be well-versed on criminal proceedings involving children.

The reporters would have to leave the court if the minor testifies and taken to another room to watch the testimony on closed-circuit television.

The document makes clear that if it becomes apparent that the presence of the media impedes the child’s right to privacy and a fair trial, the court retains the power to direct them to leave the court room.

“The order we seek will not harm the minor’s rights,” said Budlender.

“If the application is dismissed, the media will rely on the [National Prosecuting Authority] and soundbytes from parties involved in the case.”

This meant that the media could not assess the information available.

Speculation could then undermine justice.

However, advocate Ann Skelton from Media Monitoring Africa said the best way to give a child accused a fair trial is for it to be private.

“Children are particularly susceptible to stigmatisation,” she said. “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.”

She urged the court to take a narrow rather than wide approach in its decision.

“What we do not want is for this to become a standard rule.”

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.

He said it amounted to the unequal treatment of children which went against the rule of law.

The case against the pair, Chris Mahlangu and the 15-year-old boy, was postponed to December 6 on Monday, and the media was not allowed to enter.

The right-wing leader was bludgeoned to death in April at his North West farmhouse. — Sapa