Motata is not racist, it's lost in translation

The tribunal is also looking into a second complaint by senior counsel Gerrit Pretorius about the way Judge Motata conducted his defence in his drunken driving trial, at which he was convicted. (Gallo)

The tribunal is also looking into a second complaint by senior counsel Gerrit Pretorius about the way Judge Motata conducted his defence in his drunken driving trial, at which he was convicted. (Gallo)

AfriForum’s Kallie Kriel said on Wednesday that Judge Nkola Motata’s “rant” at the scene of a 2007 car crash “was solely based on the colour of the skin of Mr Baird – nothing else whatsoever”. 

Kriel was testifying at a judicial conduct tribunal set up to investigate two complaints of judicial misconduct arising from the car accident at the property of Richard Baird and the criminal trial that followed. 

The tribunal must decide whether the statements made by the Pretoria high court judge, now retired, at the scene of the accident were racist. And, if so, whether it would make him guilty of gross misconduct – which would open the way for him to be impeached.

The tribunal is also looking into a second complaint by senior counsel Gerrit Pretorius about the way Motata conducted his defence in his drunken driving trial, at which he was convicted. Pretorius said that, when his counsel put it to a witness that Motata would say he was not drunk, this was putting a version that he knew to be false – a grave breach of judicial ethics.

The statements that are specifically quoted in the tribunal’s terms of reference record Motata as having said: “No boer is going to undermine me … this used to be a white man’s land, even if they have more land … South Africa belongs to us.
We are ruling South Africa.”

Another statement referred to by Kriel in his opening statement was when Motata was recorded to have said: “Yes, but you know all of you, let me just tell you, most of us this is our world, it is not the world of the boers. Even if they can have big bodies, South Africa is ours.”

“Even if I can drive into it I will pay it. It is not a problem that I can pay for the wall but he must not criticise me. There is no boer who will criticise me”.

Kriel said the context in which the statements were made perpetuated racist stereotypes of white people as “inherently racist, bullyish, of a specific physical appearance, no regard for any other person, unsophisticated, unrepentant, the ever-oppressor and an unethical and immoral person”.

In cross-examination, Motata’s counsel, Themba Skosana suggested to Kriel that the comments were made in Sesotho and that “leburu” was the only word available to describe a white, Afrikaans-speaking person. Kriel responded that, in isolation, the word may not be offensive, but in context it was.

Skosana also said that Motata had been provoked when Baird had arrived on the scene and the first thing he tried to do was take the key out of the car. He added that at his criminal trial, it had been found that he had been provoked.

Baird was not called as a witness before the tribunal but was seated in the audience and took to Twitter to deny that he had provoked the judge: “False. No provocation by me. #Motata got agitated whenever mention was made of drunkenness & when he wanted his keys … Lucky Melk my former tenant took his keys before I got there. Melk called me to the scene.”

Kriel said he did not see anything that would have been a provocation but he was not present at the scene. But he added that, even if the judge had been provoked, “we expect more from a judge”.

The tribunal is scheduled to continue until Friday.  

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