The work of a translator who mediated between police and a youth accused of killing right wing leader Eugene Terre’Blanche was called into question in the Ventersdorp High Court on Wednesday.
The boy’s lawyer, Zola Majavu, tried to show how information could be misinterpreted or misunderstood.
The minor and Chris Mahlangu are accused of beating Terre’Blanche to death in his North West farmhouse in April 2010.
Both have pleaded not guilty to murder. Mahlangu claims he acted in self-defence. The teenager has denied involvement in the crime.
Majavu asked Reservist Detective Constable Emmanuel Mthembu to translate phrases from Tswana to Afrikaans, as he would have done when he explained the youth’s rights to him and his mother before the teenager pointed out the crime scenes.
Mthembu struggled to do so correctly at all times. When he translated incorrectly, the court translator explained that Mthembu’s version was not verbatim but a simplified version.
Lost in translation
Majavu was questioning the accuracy of Mthembu’s translations between Lieutenant Colonel Frans Jacobs, the youth and his mother.
Mthembu said he occasionally had to ask Jacobs to clarify what he had said during the translation but he felt the family and youth had understood what was said.
Mthembu admitted that it was possible for some information to have been lost in translation. He also admitted it was the first time he had acted as a translator.
Mthembu was testifying in a trial within a trial to determine the validity of evidence given by the two accused.
Earlier on Wednesday, the minor disputed the signature he purportedly made on a statement to the police.
Majavu said his client denied the signature was his.
However, Jacobs, who went with the teenager to point out crime scenes, said he had asked the teenager if the signature was his and he had said it was.
The teenager’s mother had also confirmed it was her fingerprint on the statement as she could not write.
Majavu asked why a probation officer had not been appointed to assess the minor within 24 hours, in accordance with the law, but only after the crime scenes were pointed out.
Sergeant Samuel Kutumela was the last witness to be called on Wednesday.
He read the minor his rights at the Klerksdorp Police Station before he was handed over to Jacobs.
He said he read the certificate containing the rights and thereafter explained it to the youth in Tswana and asked if he understood.
“He and I were talking in Tswana. After he said he understood I asked him to sign on the document,” he said.
He said the minor’s mother could not write and therefore police had to take a thumb print as her signature.
They received a copy of the certificate.
Majavu cross-examined Kutumela on his translation of the rights and whether the minor and his mother would have been able to understand the rights which were written in English.
“The accused and his mother understood me very well,” Kutumela said.
The trial continues on Thursday. — Sapa