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South Africa: No Swift Justice for 16 Accused of Vigilante Killing

Sixteen men accused of the brutal vigilante murder of six people near Kraaifontein near Cape Town, returned to prison on Friday as the Western Cape High Court tried to unravel the logistics of their more than two-year-old case, which has not even gone to trial yet.

In December, 2014, the bodies of six men, aged between 18 and 30, were found by passers-by at Joostenberg Vlakte, a semi-rural area near Kraaifontein, north of Cape Town.

They were found face down, with their hands tied behind their backs, and appeared to have been stoned to death.

At the time, Independent Online reported that they had been beaten so severely that one man's head was a "blackened mess", and the rocks and building rubble where they were found were splattered with blood.

There was speculation that the murders were linked to theft accusations.

The police issued an appeal for information, and chipped away at the case, eventually notching up arrest after arrest, and enough evidence to go to court with charges of premediated murder.

The case was eventually transferred from lower courts to the Western Cape High Court, where the 16 accused men stood in a long row in the dock on Friday.

However, more than two years later, the main issue raised by the phalanx of Legal Aid lawyers on Friday, was the language and form of their statements, and those of witnesses.

Lost in translation

The official language in court may be English, as declared recently by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, but in the confines of a police interview room, in this particular case, the court heard that Xhosa and Sotho were predominantly spoken.

"I don't understand Xhosa," submitted one Legal Aid lawyer, who declined to provide his name afterward. "I want a copy in English so that I can go and consult with my client. We need to know what the confession is about."

He pointed out that he could not even take the compact disc of the recorded statement to his client in prison for a translation because prisoners were not allowed to have access to computers.

Another lawyer argued that statements that were in English, had been transcribed and then reduced to point form, based on what the transcriber thought the accused was saying or meant. There were fears that a non-neutral party, like an investigating officer, may have provided the transcription and translations.

The lawyers also asked that the photographs provided be printed out in colour, because the black and whites on offer did not provide sharp enough detail, in their opinion. That would mean multiple albums being printed out for the defence.

One of the defence lawyers, Mike Pothier, rose to suggest that they go old school and simply transcribe all the recorded vocals in the original language, and then have them interpreted, and presented as hard copies.

This way, lawyers could analyse what was said, and ask the accused questions of clarity.

Accused to remain in custody

There was also a suggestion among the team that the court interpreters go with the lawyers to the prisons where the men are in custody to have their statements translated, as well as for the "confessions" by up to eight of the accused.

The court heard it would take about two days per accused to complete translations and interpretation.

With wide eyes, the interpreter on duty pointed out that they were already short staffed, and it would be against the rules for them to interpret outside of a court room. They would need an official application to their manager, and permission to be granted for this.

Judge Robert Henney suggested roping in retired court interpreters and outside certified interpreters instead.

Eventually, with other cases on his roll, and in the interests of a fair trial, Henney ordered the entire legal team - the prosecution, and the police and the Department of Correctional Services - to go away and put their heads together and figure out a way of sorting it all out, with certified interpreters and translators.

They did not even get to the issue of transporting all the required officials to the accused, or all of the accused and the officials to one meeting place for the task. This was also to be resolved outside of court time.

The accused looked irritated and crestfallen as they were led out again to their prison transport by a posse of policemen. They will remain in custody until the teams regroup again in court on May 12.

News24

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