Surprise over public access to Terre'Blanche trial

Advocacy groups have expressed surprise at Judge Joseph Raulinga’s decision to allow members of the public and members of the Terre’Blanche family to view the testimony of the teenager alleged to have been involved in the murder of Eugene Terre’Blanche, via closed-circuit television (CCTV).

Morgan Courtenay, an attorney at the Centre for Child Law, said the centre was surprised by the judge’s decision to allow the public and members of the Terre’Blanche family to sit in on the testimony, albeit in an adjoining room with a CCTV link to the court, without a substantive application for access having been made by those parties.

“We’re shocked that such a decision has been made and we’re thinking of taking the matter further,” he said.

Following an application for special permission to sit in on the proceedings by Media 24, the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) and e.tv, the judge granted media houses access to the trial of Terre’Blanche’s alleged killers, one of whom is a minor.

Under normal circumstances—and in accordance with the Child Justice Act—people who are not directly involved in court proceedings would not be allowed to sit in on the trial of a minor.

Expanded access to the trial
According to Okyerebea Ampofo-Anti, an associate with the law firm Webber Wentzel—which acted on behalf of Media 24 and Sanef—the Terre’Blanche family last week attempted to make an application for members of the family and the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) to sit in on the trial.

“But they did not file their papers correctly or follow the proper procedures, and the judge refused to accept their application,” she said.

So it came as a surprise to many when the decision on Thursday allowed for the public and members of the Terre’Blanche family to sit in on the hearing.

Ampofo-Anti said the firm was happy about the judge’s decision to allow the media expanded access to the trial, as there was great public interest in the matter. She added that this was the first decision concerning the trial of a minor since the advent of the new Child Justice Act.

However, she reserved comment on the judge’s decision to allow members of the public and the Terre’Blanche family to sit in on the proceedings.

Rights of the child
William Bird, director of Media Monitoring Africa, said he was astonished by the decision to allow members of the public and family to attend the hearings, and was concerned that this “may set a concerning precedent” for cases involving minors.

Fourteen journalists, as well as four members of the Terre’Blanche family and 16 members of the general public, would be allowed to attend proceedings. Each person will have to supply their name to the court registrar and, while the registrar will allocate seats to specific journalists, the public will gain access on a first-come, first-served basis.

Bird said it was worrying that while the journalists who would be allowed in to the CCTV-room would be carefully selected, members of the public would be allowed in on a first-come, first, served basis. “I don’t think this is balancing the rights of the child with the rights of the public,” he said.

The trial of the two suspects, Chris Mahlangu (28) and the unnamed 15-year-old boy, will be held in May next year.

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker

Faranaaz Parker is a reporter for the Mail & Guardian. She writes on everything from pop science to public health, and believes South Africa needs carbon taxes and more raging feminists. When she isn't instagramming pictures of her toddler or obsessively checking her Twitter, she plays third-person shooters on Xbox Live. Read more from Faranaaz Parker

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